Here are three observations from Louisville's 72-68 win during the first of two national semifinals at the Final Four in Atlanta:
1. As Louisville's stars struggled to find consistency on the offensive end, Cardinals forward Luke Hancock stepped in to save the day
Though the NCAA tournament's and team's leading scorer, Russ Smith, finished with 21 points, it was clear he never really found his comfort zone in the semifinal. He shot just 6-of-17, including missing seven free throws something that had never happened in any game his entire career. Louisville's second-leading scorer Gorgui Dieng finished with zero points on just one shot.
Not only did he deliver a memorable second-half performance, but he also knocked down the free throw to make it a three-point game with 12 seconds remaining, then missed the second shot only to tie up Wichita State's Ron Baker to force a jump ball. The possession arrow, of course, was aimed at Louisville. Game over.
Hancock finished with 20 points, 14 coming in the second period. He also came up with four rebounds and two critical steals as Louisville made its comeback from a 12-point second-half deficit.
The win gave the Cardinals a school-record 34th win and a spot in its third-ever NCAA title game.
2. Wichita State earned every bit of recognition and praise they received from Rick Pitino during the game's build-up
The upset was not to be.
However, the Shockers nearly lived up to their nickname and delivered the best offensive performance any team has against the No. 1 overall seed Cardinals.
The No. 9 seed from the Missouri Valley Conference nearly became the first seed that low to make it to the NCAA tournament finals. And, for a while, it looked like they were about to pull it off. They led by one point at the half, but extended that lead to 12 midway through the second half.
The Shockers were protecting the ball. They were controlling the pace.
But after Hancock and walk-on Tim Henderson started hitting some shots, Louisville settled into their high-pressure, full-court defense and began to rattle Wichita State. The lead disappeared quickly and there were no miracle chances a la Butler's Gordon Heyward to come.
That being said: No team over the past six weeks has played Louisville closer. The Cardinals have looked like a juggernaut at times this tournament. Wichita State "played angry" and made them look mortal, at least for the majority of Saturday's game.
3. College basketball needs to address the rulebook in the offseason
Anytime Karl Hess, one of the most maligned referees in college basketball, takes the court, complaining is imminent. However, regardless of the touch fouls that plagued the Louisville-Wichita State game in particular, the NCAA needs to take a long, hard look at significant changes to encourage a faster-paced, more offensively-friendly game.
Call it the Bo Ryan Effect in college basketball; the game could use an artificially accelerated pace and more points on the scoreboard.
Numerous ideas have been bounced around in recent times changing the shot clock from 35 seconds to the NBA's 24, utilizing a defensive three-second violation to create better spacing around the basket (also used in the pros), re-evaluating charge-block calls and at least one of them needs to gain considerable consideration as soon as "One Shining Moment" finishes its annual serenading on Monday.
Louisville and Wichita State, both competing at the highest level of college basketball in 2013, scored a combined 51 points in the first half.
The overall field goal percentage for the game was 43 percent.
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