Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
When people cite intangible qualities like “clutchness” and “savvy” and “composure,” the descriptions typically fall in line with the quantifiable aspects of a player’s game. Otherwise, the descriptions are casual characterizations of ultimately inexplicable qualities. False conceptions are generated, players are ridiculed – he’s no good in the clutch! He’s terrible in the locker room! – and this whole college basketball analysis thing degenerates into a free-for-all personality profiling exercise. I’m likewise reluctant to throw out loose generalizations about any player’s on-court traits, but there is one point I won’t begrudge – the best players should step up in big games. It’s difficult to define what “best” or “big” even means, quantitatively, but if you were to poll any official authority on college hoops about the definition of the terms, they’d point you directly to the two games played in the Georgia Dome last night. The Final Four is as big as it gets, and when last night’s games lay in the balance, waiting to be seized by each team’s starring individuals, something profoundly strange happened: many of those stars didn’t rise to the occasion.
The driving forces behind Louisville’s second half run, Henderson and Hancock, pushed Louisville over the top Saturday night (AP Photo).
That’s not odd just because Michigan and Louisville have been sporting “Rise to the Occasion” Adidas warm up gear throughout Tournament play. It’s weird for other reasons, some of them more easy to understand than others. The players who couldn’t meet the demands of Saturday night’s spotlight – Trey Burke, Peyton Siva and Michael Carter-Williams, for starters – created a void of opportunity, which allowed some new faces to step up, greatly affect the outcome of the games and assume the leading roles otherwise dominated by their routinely starring teammates. It’s time to honor Saturday night’s less-heralded stars. Their seasons may not measure up to their household-name-recognizable teammates, but in many ways, the outcomes of last night’s games were the product of their routinely overlooked actions on the court.
Tim Henderson, Louisville. The only circumstance under which you could honestly describe Tim Henderson’s performance Saturday night as anything other than “remarkable” is if your name is actually Tim Henderson, and I’m not so sure even he knew he was capable of sparking the game-changing second half rally that lead Louisville past Wichita State in the national semifinal. True story: With the Cardinals trailing by 12 and the clocking slowly ticking into late second-half panic territory, Henderson buried two triples on consecutive possessions to cut the Cardinals’ deficit in half. Wichita State burned a timeout, the Louisville-half of the Georgia Dome crowd reached full throat, and everything snowballed from there. Louisville’s press started forcing turnovers. Wichita State was suddenly crumbling as the momentum shifted in the Cardinals’ favor. It was a major turning point in a second half that, had Henderson not intervened, may have ended just as it began, with the Shockers calmly deflecting Louisville’s defense and matching the Cardinals blow-for-blow and doing everything, almost everything, to knock off the No. 1 overall seed. Henderson stopped Wichita’s upset bid dead in its tracks.
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