The Louisville junior scored 42 points in the final two games of the tournament and had a big role in the Cardinals' title-game comeback.
ATLANTA — With an aching heart and a shot that couldn’t miss, Luke Hancock helped Kevin Ware and the rest of the Louisville Cardinals win their national title.
Given increased playing time because of Ware’s injury, Hancock almost single-handedly brought Louisville back from a 12-point deficit in the first half Monday, going 5 for 5 from three-point range in a 82-76 win over Michigan in the national-title game.
Hancock finished with 22 points to add to the 20 from Saturday night’s semifinals and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
“We needed a rally and we’ve been doing it for a couple of games straight, being down,” Hancock said. “We just had to wait and make our run.”
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Quite a performance from the player that coach Rick Pitino was afraid to start because he wanted to keep him out of foul trouble.
Quite a treat for Hancock’s father, Bill, who is gravely ill with a sickness the family does not want to disclose, but nonetheless made the trip from Roanoke, Va., to see his son become the star of the Final Four.
Some might say the junior, a transfer from George Mason, won the game for Louisville. It might be more appropriate to say he kept it from getting out of control. With leading scorer Russ Smith struggling and Michigan freshman Spike Albrecht doing his best Hancock impression by making his first four three-pointers, Louisville fell behind by 12 in the first half and was struggling to find momentum.
In came Hancock. First he made two free throws. Then, he made shot after shot after shot after shot. Yes, four straight three-pointers, accounting for 14 straight Louisville points as part of a 16-3 run that turned a 33-21 deficit into a one-point lead.
This marked the seventh time Louisville has come back from double digits to win this season — and the second time the Cards (35-5) have turned a 12-point deficit into a victory in Atlanta.
Hancock’s father’s illness may have been the most poignant, untold story of this championship run dominated by news of Ware’s snapped tibia, a gruesome injury suffered in the regional final that gave the Cardinals a rallying point.
As for Hancock himself, he may not have been the best-known Cardinal coming in, but he’ll never have a problem getting a free drink in Louisville when he heads back there.
He was Plan B for Pitino, whose best scorer, Smith, went 3 for 16 in the final and 9 for 33 for the Final Four. Hancock’s stats: 5 of 6 in the final and 11 of 15 for the tournament. Talk about making the most of your touches.
After Hancock shot the Cardinals back within contact in the first half, Smith, Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan started scoring, slowly building a Louisville lead. Then it was Hancock with what was essentially the knockout blow — a three-pointer with 3:27 left that put Louisville up by double digits for the first time all night.
Former Michigan star Chris Webber showed up to the game after some pregame drama over his whereabouts. The rest of the Wolverines’ Fab Five group — Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King — were also in attendance.
• Florida center Patric Young is staying in school for his senior season, which should make the Gators one of the favorites in the Southeastern Conference.
• New Mexico guard Tony Snell will forgo his senior season to enter the NBA draft.
• Kansas State said sophomore forward Adrian Diaz has decided to transfer in order to be closer to his home in Miami.