Luke Hancock had 20 points off the bench in the first game of Saturday's Final Four, stepping up when the Louisville Cardinals' usual scorers weren't hitting, and the Cardinals beat the Wichita State Shockers 72-68 to advance to the national championship game.
Hancock, a junior in his first year playing for the Cardinals after transferring from George Mason, was 6-of-9 from the floor with two key baskets late to send the tournament's No. 1 overall seed to within 40 minutes of a national championship.
He hit one free throw with 8.8 seconds left, but he missed the second. With the score 71-68, Wichita State got the rebound, but Hancock tied him up for a jump ball. The possession arrow went to Louisville, and Russ Smith was fouled with 4.9 seconds left and hit the first of his two attempts to set the final score at 72-68.
The Cardinals will play for their first national championship since they won the 1986 title. Louisville has been to two title games (1980 and 1986) and won both times. This is its 10th Final Four appearance. Wichita State fell short of the title game in its second Final Four appearance in school history. The Shockers' first was in 1965, when they lost in the national semifinal to the UCLA Bruins. That year was Bruins coach John Wooden's second of 10 titles at UCLA.
Louisville trailed by as many as 12 early in the second half, but it came back once it finally figured out how to turn over the Shockers. After a turnover with 13:04 left in the first half, Wichita State didn't cough it up until the 6:42 mark in the second half—a stretch of 26 minutes and 22 seconds of game-time that kept the Shockers in the game despite shooting under 40 percent.
The two teams sent the lead back and forth several times — 11 in all, and seven ties, too — but a Hancock 3-pointer with 1:59 to play gave Louisville a 65-60 lead, its first two-possession lead of the half. On Louisville's next possession after a Wichita State basket, Hancock pump-faked from behind the arc, drove and hit a layup from the left to make the lead 67-62.
Louisville couldn't get its offense going in the second half — Wichita State's transition defense had a lot to do with that, considering how much the Cardinals love to run on offense — and Wichita State started to pull away early in the half. Tekele Cotton's fast-break lay-up with 14:32 to go gave the Shockers their first double-digit lead of the game at 43-32.
Cleanthony Early finished with 24 points for the Shockers.
The Shockers held a 26-25 halftime lead after scoring the game's first eight points. Louisville, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, couldn't assert its press early since it had no inbounds plays off scores to set up its signature defense and the driving force behind its success.