ATLANTA -- Wichita State controlled the ballgame for 30 minutes. Louisville demands you do it for 40, and those last 10 minutes were enough for the Cardinals to escape, 72-68, and advance to Monday's title game.
The Shockers jumped out to an 8-0 lead, carried a one-point lead into the half, and then dominated the first eight minutes of the second half, taking as much as a 12-point lead. The Cardinals appeared to be in significant trouble, as the Shockers were limiting everything to the perimeter, were starting to hurt the Cardinals on the glass, and the Louisville offense was stagnant.
Then, whether you want to call it stepping up, preordained or some combination of the two, Kevin Ware replacement Tim Henderson, a walk-on, splashed two threes within a minute after missed front ends of one-and-ones. The Cardinals cut the lead quickly in half and soon after started getting a foothold in the game.
Wichita State went over 26 minutes in the middle of the game without a turnover, but as Louisville started scoring more regularly, they were able to apply their press with greater effect, and a run of five Shocker turnovers in a three-minute span helped Louisville erase the lead completely.
They took their biggest lead of the game at 65-60 when Luke Hancock ripped his third triple of the game, and the Cardinals executed well enough down the stretch to hold off the Shockers.
Louisville won the game despite taking more than half of their field goal attempts from behind the arc. At one point, the Cardinals had attempted 21 threes and only 11 two-point shots, but they finally started breaking down the Shockers' stubborn defense, getting to the rim and finishing, which allowed them to start to use their pressure to wear down and turn over the Shockers. With starting guards Russ Smith and (especially) Peyton Siva having uneven afternoons, Hancock was huge off the bench with 20 points, and he forced a critical late-game held ball that gave possession back to Louisville with under 10 seconds left and the Cardinals up by three. The Cardinals got a total of 34 points from their reserves, a huge reason why they escaped.