Reserve Power: Luke Hancock and the UofL bench send Cards to championship, 72-68

04/06/2013 07:40 PM

ATLANTA – Louisville’s bench, powered by Luke Hancock, bailed out a sometimes befuddled offense with 33 points to send the Cards to the national championship in a comeback over Wichita State, 72-68.

Hancock scored 20, including a free throw with less than seven seconds. His miss on the second free throw hit the back of the rim and both teams scrambled for the ball, leading the refs to call a tie-up. The arrow was pointing Louisville’s way.

Russ Smith added 21 points on 6-16 shooting to hold off the Shockers, who were led by gritty performances from forward Cleanthony Early.

“We were fouling too much. Then we started getting some steals, picking up the heat,” Coach Rick Pitino said after the game, adding that he didn’t think the team was going to lose at any point.

And the starters said even though they weren’t on their game, the play of the reseves injected the energy they needed on both ends of the court.

“I knew it wasn’t my night. But I was just happy to see everyone else contribute. It was so special,” Smith said.

Hancock was joined off the bench by forward Montrezl Harrell, who added eight points with some clutch shots in the paint in the first half, and Tim Henderson, who scored his six points on back-to-back threes that stopped the hemorrhaging for the Cards in the second half.

Wichita State was on the verge of putting the game out of reach the way they did against Ohio State last weekend. With 13:25 left, Hancock fouled Cleanthony Early, who hit one of two free throws but got his own rebound and hit a three pointer to put the Shockers up 12, 47-35.

That’s when Henderson hit three pointers on consecutive possessions to cut the lead to six with 12:11 left.

UofL also picked up the defense, which got Cards fans back into the game.

It’s not that the first half was messy or sloppy — it was just off. The shooting and the rhythm for both teams with two exceptions: Cleanthony Early had a strong first half to lead Wichita State and Russ Smith put the Cards on his shoulder for the final five minutes of the half.

Louisville shot 40 percent from the floor. But it seemed worse when taking account the missed free throws. UofL shot only five for nine from the stripe in the first half with Smith accounting for all four of the misses. Wichita State shot 32.1 percent from the field.

From the tip-off, it was all Cleanthony Early early. He hit the game’s first five points and added a thank-you-very-much style block on Smith.

Louisville clawed back to within 8-7 on a slick pass from Smith to Harrell. Then a Wichita turnover by Fred Van Fleet gave UofL the ball, Siva got fouled and hit both free throws to put UofL up by one.

From there, the teams traded the lead three times before a 3:38 stretch starting with just over 10 minutes to go in which no one could score. Shot after shot rattled around the rim and out or just plain missed.

After Smith air-balled a three-pointer with 6:17 to go then Early dunked on Wichita State’s next possession sending Shockers fans into a frenzy. That seemed to wake Smith up.

He then hit three straight three pointers to finish out the half with 11 points. The only other UofL player to score in the final six minutes of the half was Luke Hancock, who was fouled by Ron Baker behind the arc. Hancock hit all three free throws.

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