RTC is reporting from the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend.
Three Key Takeaways.
- The Game Was Ugly, But Louisville Can Do Ugly. One reason the Cards are so difficult to match up against is that they are just as comfortable playing an ugly, foul-ridden, poor-shooting train wreck of a game as they are an up-and-down virtuoso performance. This was the former. In the first half, the Cards allowed Wichita to force them to settle for long-range jumpers to the tune of 4-of-13 with only seven field goal attempts coming from two-point range. By the time Louisville had fallen behind 12 points just shy of midway through the second half, those numbers looked even worse — 18 shots from three and only 11 from within the arc. Only when Louisville started driving the ball inside to a more equitable split (the Cards finished the game with a 25/24 ratio) did openings appear for the only hot shooters on the floor, Luke Hancock and Tim Henderson.
- Tim Henderson and Luke Hancock Saved the Day. Speaking of those two, there’s no question that their contributions on nights where Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng couldn’t make shots (they combined for a 1-of-10 performance) saved the Cardinals’ hides tonight. It wasn’t so much as the volume of scoring — Hancock ended up with 20 points, while Henderson had six — but it was the when that mattered most. After the Shockers’ lead ballooned to 12 points, it was Henderson who nailed consecutive threes to bring the lead back to a much more manageable six very quickly. If Wichita had pushed its lead up to 15 or more at that point, it’s questionable whether the Cards would have found enough offense to come back in this one. After Henderson’s pair of bombs, it was Hancock’s turn. He followed up with a pair of layups and a three, ensuring that the Louisville push was for real, and then not only gave the Cards its first lead in a long time with a three at the 6:30 mark, but essentially sealed the game with another one at two minutes. He also managed to get his hands on some balls for deflections and steals, but the key point is that 13 of his 20 points came in the last 12 minutes of the game. More on his Final Four-saving performance below.
- Wichita Was One Bad Stretch From the Unthinkable. For much of this game, the appearance on the floor was that Gregg Marshall’s group was the better team. Their ability to not fall victim to the Louisville pressure was outstanding for the majority of the contest, mishandling the ball only five times in the first 33-plus minutes of action. Once Louisville started to finally get some shots to go down, Wichita got rattled for the first time all game, turning it over four times in the next two minutes and three more times down the stretch. It’s certainly not worthwhile to delve too much into hypotheticals, but Wichita had the exact game plan and execution it needed to win this one. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng were offensive nightmares. Russ Smith was solid, but high-volume in his attack. Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan weren’t going to beat the Shockers tonight. It really took a totally couple of unexpected efforts from Hancock and Henderson to make the difference here in Atlanta, or it says here that Wichita would have been playing on Monday night.
Star of the Game. Luke Hancock, Louisville. Certainly didn’t have that one on the SOTG pool, and I’m not sure anyone else did either. As noted above, it wasn’t just his overall numbers — 20 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, on 6-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-5 from distance — it was that so much of his offensive effort was exactly when Louisville needed a player to step up. Hancock averaged 7.4 PPG this season and only hit the 20-point mark once all season (22 against Notre Dame in 46 minutes of action).