ATLANTA — When Kevin Ware’s leg snapped shockingly in front of Louisville’s bench less than a week ago, players collapsed on the court, turned away in horror and some cried.
Except for Luke Hancock.
The junior forward knelt by Ware’s side, praying over him, saying later that he didn’t want Ware to feel alone.
As calm as he was in the face of calamity in the Elite Eight, he was just as poised Saturday night in the Georgia Dome as Louisville faced a Final Four collapse.
“I’m happy I have a guy like that on our team,” Russ Smith said. “A guy who can step up in big situations. He always has his head in the game.”
And a knack for timing.
With game-changing 3-pointers on a night when Louisville’s stars dimmed, it was Hancock and a cast of reserves who helped overcome ninth-seeded Wichita State’s 12-point lead for a 72-68 Final Four victory. Louisville will play in the NCAA tournament title game against a No. 4 regional seed in either Michigan or Big East brother Syracuse.
The Cardinals are making their first tournament final appearance since 1986 and coach Rick Pitino will attempt to win his second championship after taking the 1996 title at Kentucky.
Hancock, a George Mason transfer who overcame two shoulder injuries, finished with 20 points on 6 of 9 shooting, hitting three 3-pointers. He hit an open 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 4 seconds remaining for a 65-60 lead.
“I’m a lot older than these guys,” he said. “Just being around and playing. Poise in the Kevin situation is different than being poised in a game. In a game you just try to treat it like any other game.”
Center Gorgui Dieng took only one shot, top free-throw shooter Smith made only 5 of 12 free throws while compiling a team-high 21 points and Siva was only 1 for 9 shooting.
Hancock was not the only reserve to star.
Tim Henderson, a walk-on receiving minutes only because of Ware’s injury, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to draw the Cardinals to within 47-41. He had made just four 3-pointers all season and scored just three points in Big East play.
For most of the game, Wichita State appeared headed for a surprise ending. The Shockers, who were appearing in their first Final Four since 1965, withstood Louisville’s press for most of the game and survived nearly 26 minutes without a turnover.
They turned the ball over only four times in the first half but committed seven in the games closing minutes.
Cleanthony Early led the Shockers with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall of his team, “They proved not only that they belong, but they can play with the best.”