Did Louisville Just Have Every NCAA Champion's Close Call?

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Did Louisville Just Have Every NCAA Champion's Close Call?
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That is not how Rick Pitino drew it up.

Louisville strutted into Atlanta with the most dangerous defense in the country and some hard-charging guards.

Those guards, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, combined to shoot 7-of-26. That defense went more than 27 minutes between forcing turnovers. The Cardinals found themselves down by 12 in the second half.

Louisville played on Wichita State’s terms, and somehow, some way, from the cool hand of Luke Hancock, the Cardinals will live to see Monday night after a 72-68 win.

It’s not always how you get there in the NCAA tournament, but that you just find a way to scratch and claw and adapt to get there.

Pitino’s patented pressure was negated for about 33 minutes by a perfect game plan from Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Marshall did his best Rollie Massimino impression, and this would have been Villanova over Georgetown. Or NC State over University of Houston.

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The plan was simple and effective: Force Siva and Smith to beat them with jump shots, much in the same way they made Ohio State’s Aaron Craft try to do the same. Siva missed all five of his threes. Smith went 4-of-11.

Both tried to get to the rim without much success for a majority of the game, so Pitino adjusted.

The Cards started their comeback by simply getting their feet in the paint and then kicking out for back-to-back threes by Tim Henderson, a walk-on who had only four threes all season coming into Saturday's game.

Then it was all Hancock.

Pitino went to his sharpshooter to start the second half after starter Wayne Blackshear had been a no-show in the first half.

Hancock, who transferred from George Mason after Jim Larranaga left for Miami, is known for his spot-up shooting. He took Wichita State by surprise by attacking the basket, and unlike his speedster teammates Smith and Siva, he was able to do so under control.

Not how Pitino (originally) drew it up.

Louisville’s pressure was negated by Wichita State calmly getting the ball inbounds, clearing out and letting whichever guard had the ball go one-on-one to get it up the court. This took away the Cardinals' quick-jump traps.

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Finally, Wichita State felt that pressure that just…keeps…coming. The Shockers would turn it over seven times in the final seven minutes. Their 11 giveaways for the game was still tied for a season low against Louisville and probably should have been 10, as a quick whistle for a jump ball in the final seconds negated Wichita State's chance to tie the game.

Not how Pitino (originally) drew it up.

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The Cardinals got 20 points from Hancock, another eight off the bench from freshman Montrezl Harrell, the back-to-back threes from Henderson and three big rebounds down the stretch from reserve big man Stephan Van Treese, who did not play the first half.

Louisville came into Saturday night winning by an average of 21.75 points per game in the NCAA tournament. The Cards had one close call in the previous 14 games—a 58-53 win over Syracuse on March 2.

Almost every champion has to win at least one off-game in the tourney.

This was it for the Cardinals. They can breathe their sigh of relief now and go win their championship on Monday. 

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