Louisville's press wears down Wichita State in second half
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ATLANTA -- No. 1 has been the most precarious spot in college basketball all season long, so it should have come as no surprise that ninth-seeded Wichita State had top overall seed Louisville, the only No. 1 to make the Final Four, on the brink Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.
But the Shockers couldn't push the Cardinals over the edge, couldn't pull off the biggest shocker of all. After running up a 12-point second-half lead and committing only four turnovers in more than 33 minutes, Wichita State finally fell victim to the Cardinals' press, losing the ball seven times in the final 6:42 and eventually the national semifinal game, 72-68.
Russ Smith was the only Louisville starter who could find the basket on a regular basis, scoring 21 points, but he shot 6-for-17.
When the Shockers took a 47-35 lead on a three-pointer by Cleanthony Early, it extended their run to 20-8, and a blowout didn't seem out of the question.
But the Cardinals kept the faith even though they had to put it in the hands of walk-on Tim Henderson, the designated replacement for backup guard Kevin Ware, who suffered a compound leg fracture in the Midwest Regional final and was an inspirational presence in his courtside seat.
Wichita State (30-9) basically chose to leave Henderson unguarded, and with 13:10 left, he hit the first of two straight three-pointers to cut the deficit in half and begin the 37-21 run by the Cardinals (34-5) that put them in Monday night's championship game against Michigan.
"I feel like when it went to 12, I looked at it and the time kept going down," Louisville's Smith said of the yawning deficit. "I was like, man. I was actually waiting for our run. And it happened. Luke exploded. Then Chane exploded. Then Peyton made a big layup. Then Tim Henderson. It just kept going and going.
"It was so special. I really can't put into any words for us."
Sixth man Luke Hancock came off the bench to score 13 of his 20 points during that closing run, forward Chane Behanan had eight of his 10 points in that stretch, and Siva, who shot 1-for-9 from the field and scored only seven points, made his only field goal of the game.
"We tried to turn up the intensity and maybe gamble a little more," Hancock said. "Tim hit those shots, Chane picked it up. It was impressive."
Until the late run, the physical Wichita State defense was most impressive, and the Shockers demonstrated their toughness on offense by going 26:22 between their fourth and fifth turnovers of the game. Early was a tough inside presence with 24 points and 10 rebounds, forward Carl Hall had 13 points and guard Ron Baker added 11 points and eight rebounds.
At one point, Ware got up from his courtside seat and joined the team huddle. "He just wanted to tell us that we needed to pick it up," Siva said. "He tried to give us the extra motivation to get over the hump. That's what he did."
But it was Henderson who took the motivational torch and carried it onto the floor. Each of the three-pointers he hit from the right corner came after Wichita State sub Ehimen Orukpe missed the front end of a one-and-one at the other end.
"It kind of hurt us," Early said. "We had a plan to force them to shoot those shots, and they happened to knock them down."
The Shockers lost their last chance with 6.3 seconds left and Louisville clinging to a 71-68 lead. Louisville's Hancock missed the second of two free throws and Baker got to the rebound but Hancock got a hand on it, prompting a held-ball call.
"I thought the ball was loose before the whistle," Baker said. "I tapped it to Malcolm [Armstead]. That's what I was arguing."