The Louisville Cardinals were very nearly “Shocked” out of an opportunity to play for the National Championship on Monday night. Wichita State was in control of the game for the entire first half, and prevailed for the first seven minutes of the second. They were in no way intimidated by the consensus champion Cardinals.
Luke Hancock came off of the bench for Louisville to score 20 points and secure a victory for his team. He was cheered on by teammate Kevin Ware who suffered a compound fracture in the “elite eight”.
“We just played super hard,” said Russ Smith, who led the Cardinals with 21 points. “Nobody wanted to go home.”
The Shockers played with heart and soul for the full 40 minutes. They did not deserve to lose. Cleanthony Early had 24 for the ninth-seeded Shockers (30-9), who nearly pulled off their biggest upset of all.
But in the end Louisville outlasted the Shockers from Wichita State and won 72-68.
The second semi-final was expected to be a close game. No one was disappointed. For the first 27 minutes Syracuse was in control. Jim Boeheim’s two-three zone forced Michigan to take outside shots, some of them will beyond the 3-point line. They made college’s best player Trey Burke entirely ineffective. And Tim Hardaway Jr. was unable to score.
But the Wolverines are a team. 6 foot 10 inch Mitch McGary led the team, and helped Michigan dismantle Syracuse’ zone. McGary’s 10 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists do not tell the story. He even led a fast break resulting in a Wolverine lay-up. Caris LeVert logged 21 minutes and went 3-for-4 in Atlanta. Spike Albrecht was 2 for 2 beyond the arc.
But it was Jon Horford’s 2 clutch freethrows that decided the 61-56 outcome.
“It’s not a one-man team,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “Everybody in the media has been talking about it. That’s why it’s a team. It’s a team win. That’s what we focus on. We know Trey is our leader. He’s not going to have a game like he’s [usually had] the whole season. That’s when our team steps up, just tries to pick him up. He really doesn’t need it, but we try to pick it up anyway, try to go out there and do a great job of competing.”
If Monday nights finale is as competitive as Saturday’s two games, It will be thrilling. Both Louisville and Michigan had to rebound from a slow start, but both play great team basketball and believe in each other.
Monday night’s winner will deserve to hold the trophy and cut down the nets, but there will be no loser.
Columnist-The Guardian Express