Rick Pitino's No. 1 Cardinals rolled into the Georgia Dome with one idea in mind: Louisville winning a national title for injured guard Kevin Ware.
And on Saturday night, the Cardinals took their next step in that journey, squeaking by the surging No. 9 Wichita State Shockers, 72-68, in what was a nail-biter from the outset.
Ultimately, Louisville pulled out the victory, but it wasn't easy, as the Cardinals trailed at halftime. They weathered that storm, despite having one of their worst performances from the field.
Heading into the national title game against Michigan, here's a look at why Louisville knocked down the Shockers.
Russ Smith: Quantity, Not Quality
No, Louisville star Russ Smith was not as efficient as he's been earlier during the tournament, nor was he as effective. In fact, this was the first time during the Cardinals' performance through the Big Dance that he's been held to less than .500 shooting, but it didn't matter in the end.
Regardless of how Smith gets his points, he is the engine that drives the Cardinals offense, and if he's getting looks, the team will score, even if he's the one missing from the outside in order to create rebounds.
Interestingly, though Smith attempted his most shots of the tournament, he bagged his least amount of points, which should tell you something about how his night went offensively.
Either way, Smith will have to be putting up more than 21 in order for the Cardinals to triumph over Trey Burke and the Wolverines.
The Kevin Ware Factor
As soon as Kevin Ware went down with a season-ending injury, Louisville became the undisputed "nobody believes in us" team of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Yeah, we know, everybody has to deal with devastating injuries, but (via The New York Times) how many teams are literally crying as a result of having such a gruesome loss?
At the end of the day, the Cardinals will rally around Ware's predicament and situation, because what else can they do?
If the Cardinals want to give Ware the greatest "get well soon" gift ever handed out in April, they'll be rewarding their fallen teammate with the honor of cutting down the nets at the Georgia Dome.
The Presence of Chane Behanan
No, he wasn't the offensive dynamo who carried the Cardinals to a win over Wichita St., but Chane Behanan was the spark plug that did everything the team asked of him.
Against No. 2 Duke during the Cardinals' Elite Eight tilt, Behanan played more than he had at any point during the Big Dance, and upped his tournament-high minutes against the Shockers on Saturday.
In the end, Behanan had his best game of the tournament, as the sophomore threw down 10 points along with nine boards en route to a closely contested triumph over the Shockers.
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