Luke Hancock came off the bench to score 20 points, walk-on Tim Henderson sparked a second-half rally with two big three-pointers and injured Kevin Ware watched from the bench as Louisville advanced to the NCAA title game, escaping with a 72-68 victory over Wichita State.
ATLANTA — The deficit was getting bigger, the clock becoming an enemy and Louisville’s options were dwindling.
“I just kept telling the guys … ‘We’re going to make a run. It’s about defense,’ ” coach Rick Pitino said. “The tempo is not ours. Give them their credit, but the bench won the game for us tonight. Unbelievable display.”
Impressive comeback, too.
Luke Hancock came off the bench to score 20 points, walk-on Tim Henderson sparked a second-half rally with a pair of monster three-pointers and Louisville advanced to the NCAA title game Saturday night, escaping with a 72-68 victory over Wichita State.
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Now the Cardinals (34-5) will try and win it all for their emotional leader on the bench, injured Kevin Ware. As the final buzzer sounded, Ware stood up, grinning as he thrust his arms above his head.
Louisville plays Michigan, which got past Syracuse, for the national title Monday night. It is the Cardinals’ first trip to the title game since they won it all in 1986.
“We just played super hard,” said Russ Smith, who led the Cardinals with 21 points. “Nobody wanted to go home.”
Cleanthony Early had 24 for the ninth-seeded Shockers (30-9), who nearly pulled off their biggest upset of all.
Wichita State had knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga and Ohio State on its way to its first Final Four since 1965, and the Shockers had a 12-point lead on Louisville with 13:35 to play. It was the largest deficit all tournament for the Cardinals, who seemed out of sorts after an emotional week after Ware’s gruesome injury; he snapped his tibia and the bone broke through the skin during last weekend’s Midwest Regional final.
But Louisville had come back to win five games after trailing by nine points or more already this season, including rallying from a 16-point deficit in the title game at the Big East tournament.
This one trumped them all.
“It’s tough for Wichita State to lose this game tonight because they played great. We had to dig in,” Pitino said. “Four of our starters had their worst start of the season. We had to win the game with our second unit.”
Henderson, the walk-on who was forced into increased playing time because of Ware’s injury, made back-to-back three-pointers to spark a 21-8 run. While Hancock and Behanan were knocking down shots, Smith and former Franklin High standout Peyton Siva were turning up the heat on the Shockers.
After going more than 26 minutes without a turnover, Siva (just 1 of 9 for seven points) darted in to strip the ball away from Carl Hall. He fed Hancock, who drilled a three-pointer that gave Louisville a 56-55 lead, its first since the end of the first half.
“Down the stretch, we were just loose with the ball, we just didn’t take care of it, pretty much,” Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead said. “I can’t give you an explanation — it just happened.”
Early would give the Shockers one more lead, converting a three-point play. But Siva scored and then Smith stole the ball and took it in for an easy layup that gave Louisville a 60-58 lead with 4:47 left. Louisville fans erupted, and even Ware was on his feet, throwing up his arms and clapping. The Cardinals extended the lead to 65-60 on a tip-in of a Smith miss and another three-pointer by Hancock.
Wichita State had one last chance, pulling to 68-66 on Early’s tip in with 22 seconds left. But the Shockers were forced to foul, and Smith and Hancock made their free throws to seal the victory.
WICHITA ST. (30-9) — Armstead 1-10 0-0 2, Early 8-14 6-7 24, Hall 4-5 5-7 13, Baker 3-9 2-2 11, Cotton 4-9 0-0 9, Lufile 1-1 0-0 2, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Wiggins 1-2 0-0 2, Orukpe 0-0 0-2 0, VanVleet 0-4 3-4 3, White 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 22-54 18-24 68.
LOUISVILLE (34-5) — Smith 6-17 5-12 21, Siva 1-9 5-6 7, Dieng 0-1 0-0 0, Blackshear 0-1 0-0 0, Behanan 3-5 4-4 10, Hancock 6-9 5-7 20, Henderson 2-3 0-0 6, Harrell 4-4 0-0 8, Van Treese 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-49 19-29 72.
Halftime — Wichita St. 26-25. Three-point goals — Wichita St. 6-20 (Baker 3-6, Early 2-4, Cotton 1-2, Wiggins 0-1, VanVleet 0-2, Armstead 0-5), Louisville 9-25 (Smith 4-11, Hancock 3-5, Henderson 2-3, Blackshear 0-1, Siva 0-5). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Wichita St. 36 (Early 10), Louisville 33 (Behanan 9). Assists — Wichita St. 13 (Armstead 7), Louisville 10 (Siva, Smith 3). Total fouls — Wichita St. 20, Louisville 23. A — NA.
|Coaches with multiple titles|
|If Louisville wins the national title on Monday, coach Rick Pitino would be only the ninth men’s basketball coach to win two national titles and the first to do so with different teams.|