To help combat March Sadness, this is the fourth of a series of recaps of significant games in Cardinal history, contemporaneously rewatched, said freshly minted posts to be presented as if the games were played the night before. — c d k
It is at this juncture, with the 2013 Louisville Cardinals one victory over Michigan away from the school’s third national crown, that I feel compelled to offer a mea culpa.
And an apology to the star of the 72-68 national semi W over tough Wichita State. I am deeply sorry for my early season negativitude about him that somehow may have adversely been detrimental to Luke Hancock. My bad. Obviously.
I am thinking of Rick Pitino’s comments during Hancock’s sit out year after transferring from George Mason. The Rick has been known to hyperbolize on occasion.
“Best player on the team.”
“Smartest player on the team.”
Then he named Hancock a captain before he’d even donned a Cardinal uni in the Yum!.
Then LH started playing. And started clanking treys off the side of the backboard, dribbling to the hoop like he’s got the lumbago, and I’m wondering what the hell the big deal is, while screaming to myself, “Put in Blackshear for heavens’ sake.”
Of course, The Rick was absolutely right, while I was so very very wrong.
When the Louisville Cardinals drive to the title was in peril in Hot ‘Lanta, and star time was called for, Luke Hancock was ready for star time. He wasn’t alone, but his was the shiniest.
The W didn’t come easy.
After Tim Henderson hit consecutive bombs to pull the Cards within six after being down double that moments before at 13:30 to go — more about that in a bit — Hancock drove it to the tin for two. After a Shocker FT, Russ Smith, playing with his patented Russdiculousness, scored on a reverse lay up. After a stop, Luuuuuuke put in a driving lay up southpaw from the Brooklyn side. 45-50.
(I’m not chronicling every State answer, but they were not backing down.)
Though Chane Behanan turned beast underneath, and connected on four straight charity tosses, the Cards were still behind 51-55 at the under 8:00 media timeout. After a stop out of the stoppage, Behanan scored again. 53-55.
Louisville was playing — OK, I’ll say it as hackneyed as it might be — tenacious D. Ferocious D. Suffocating D. All of which was necessary because Wichita State wouldn’t fold.
Luke then gave the Cardinals the lead, 56-55 at 6:25. It took U of L tallies on 10 consecutive possessions to gain that advantage. Which, after the combatants exchanged giveaways, they relinquished, when Cleanthony Early converted a +1 to regain a two point margin.
A furious possession that saw Smith jack up another cockamamie shot, and Behanan not being able to convert a couple follows, ended with steady Peyton Siva making both ends of a 1+1 to knot the affair again at 60. The Shockers answered a U of L breakaway bunny to tie it at 60.
Chane Chane Chane on the boards handed the Cardinals the lead, for good this time, 62-60 but with three long minutes still to play.
Then Luke’s exclamation point came at 2:16. Hancock. Ahead of the pack, he got the ball behind the arc, FT line extended, and was unguarded.
No hesitation, no problem. Dagger. 65-60 Louisville.
After relentless Wichita State keep hope alive, cutting the margin to three, Luke Hancock went “I don’t think so.” His driving finger roll was not exactly Iceman Gervin, but it pushed the Cards back up five at 1:13, and the Shockers finally understood their #9 seed fantasy run was done.
Hancock secured the deal, with that clever tie up on a loose ball, after he missed a FT at :08. Possession arrow, and victory: Louisville Cardinals.
* * * * *
Always assuming a historical perspective as I’m wont to do, that Shocker seed had me both worried and hopeful. Not that I was overthinking the game or anything like that.
How many times through the decades had I watched the Cards undervalue a foe? Too many, truth be told.
But in U of L’s previous championship seasons, they’d been blessed with facing lower seeded teams in the semi-finals that had reverted to their default. A #5 in ’80, the Iowa Hawkeyes. An #11 in ’86, Dale Brown’s LSU Tigers.
Though Wichita State lost their last two regular season tilts, they’d been truly tough in the post season, and had vanquished both a #1 Gonzaga and a #2 Ohio State to win the West.
So, I was beside myself from the get go Saturday because U of L’s start was, shall I say, less than scintillating.
In their opening five possessions, the Cardinals went turnover, turnover, two missed Russ Smith FTs, a Siva missed trey, and two more bricks from Smith at the line.
At the first media timeout, Louisville was down, 0-8. The first Cardinal bucket finally came after 5:07 of play.
The game was evenly matched the rest of the 1st, but soon enough the underdogs took charge, pulling away by a dozen a third of the way through the 2d.
* * * * *
Which brings us to that afterthought from Christian Academy, Tim Henderson.
You know, the kid who would still be in his warmups if Kevin Ware doesn’t go down gruesomely against Duke.
You know, the kid, who wouldn’t even be in a Cardinal uni if it weren’t that Rick Pitino actually seems to trust what Ralph Willard has to say.
You know, the kid who thought his big NCAA thrill would be draining a meaningless trey late in the Regional Final.
You know, the kid who found himself with the rock in his hand, open in the corner with the Cards down 12 with 13:00 to play, and his coach, screaming at him to shoot.
You know, the kid who went net.
You know, the kid who did it again next trip down court, pulling the Cards within range, half the hill climbed, thanks to Tim Henderson.
He also gave no quarter on defense during his ten minutes of PT.
* * * * *
As huge as Chane Behanan was in the 2d, Montrezl Harrell was all that in the 1st.
Like the Greek mythical two-headed dog Orthrus, they protected the boards. And finished.
CB totaled 10 and 9 (5 offensive). Silent L had 8 and 4 (3 offensive).
Russ Smith led the Cards in scoring with 21. But he turned it over 5 times, and, let’s be frank, jacked up a bunch of bad shots. A better than solid FT shooter all season, he went 5/12 at the line.
But, Smith, like all his teammates, never gave an inch when the Shockers had the ball.
Peyton Siva’s numbers weren’t much. But, at one point in the 2d, when panic could have set in, he was solid, an exemplary, quiet, steadying example of leadership.
Luke Hancock scored 20, 6/9 from the field, 5/7 at the line. An all tourney performance.
How cool would it be if he proves me dead wrong again Monday night against the Wolverines?
— c d kaplan