Louisville, the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed, played to its lofty expectations on Saturday night by earning a berth in the national title game for the first time since 1986. But the Cardinals hardly stuck to the script in rallying past ninth-seeded Wichita State, 72-68.
Louisville didn’t score before the first media timeout and fell behind by 12 points in the second half before setting the comeback in motion. The heroes included walk-on Tim Henderson and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock.
Henderson, playing in place of injured Kevin Ware, hit back-to-back three-pointers after scoring 16 points in his first 25 appearances this season. Hancock hit for 20 points off the bench — the most he’s ever scored in a regulation college game — and sealed the victory when he forced a held ball in the final seconds off his own missed free throw.
Luke Hancock, a George Mason transfer, could be the one who takes out the closest thing we’ve got left to a Cinderella.
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) April 7, 2013
Russ Smith finished with 21 points to continue his strong run through the tournament.
Russ Smith: 1st player to score 20+ points in 1st 5 games of NCAA Tournament AND make national championship since Shane Battier, 2001 Duke
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 7, 2013
Bidding to become the first No. 9 seed to reach the national final, Wichita State took care of the ball and preserved its advantage into the final minutes in large part by knocking down 18 of 24 free throws. But two key calls went against the Shockers late, including a bizarre double foul and the questionable tie-up caused by Hancock.
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) April 7, 2013
Either way, Louisville marches on to meet the winner of the next semifinal between Michigan and Syracuse on Monday night in Atlanta. The Cardinals get to continue what has been an emotional tournament run.