Defense plays stout, but Hancock and miscues down stretch doom Shockers
ATLANTA -- The plan was to shut down the high-powered Louisville offense that had averaged 73.6 points a game, particularly guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. And that’s what the Wichita State Shockers did for 35 minutes Saturday night. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop Luke Hancock.
Hancock, who had averaged 7.4 points a game, broke out for 20 points, hitting six of nine from the field, including three of five from beyond the arc, helping Louisville defeat the Shockers 72–68 in the first national semifinal game.
“Our game plan was more to pressure Siva and Smith, we knew Hancock was a good player and we knew he was a shooter, so we just tried to take away his outside shots,” Shockers guard Nick Wiggins said. “In the second half, he just got loose, starting hitting shots. We played great team defense, but Louisville capitalized on our mistakes.”
The Shockers kept the intensity on defense up all night, as both Smith and Siva struggled from the field. Smith scored 21 points, but hit only six of 17 and just five of 12 free throws. Siva had only seven points, finishing one of nine from the field (including 0-for-5 from beyond the arc), but hit five of six free throws.
“It was give and take, we felt like we had to pick our poison and we knew Siva and Smith garnered more of our attention, so others were going to get open looks,” Wichita associate head coach Chris Jans said. “Hancock stepped up and made them; it kind of exploited what we were trying to do defensively.”
After holding the Cardinals to 25 points, the second-lowest point total for a half this season, it seemed the Shockers were in control because of their defense and assertiveness inside. They had forced seven turnovers and had the advantage on the offensive glass (7–4).
The Shockers took a 47-35 lead with 13:36 to play. But the Cardinals began chipping away, with Tim Henderson hitting consecutive 3-pointers to cut the deficit in half.
Wichita State held Louisville at bay during the next eight minutes until Hancock made a long 3-pointer to give the Cardinals the lead 56–55.
Then, Siva lost the ball and Cleanthony Early got the steal, making the lay-in and getting fouled in the process. Early hit the free throw to put the Shockers up 58–56 with 6:06 to play.
But during the last 6:43, Wichita State committed seven turnovers, including five in a span of 2:55. Louisville capitalized, scoring 11 points off turnovers in the second half.
Siva hit two free throws and Russ Smith hit four down the stretch, but it was Hancock who sealed the deal.
After hitting another 3-pointer and a layup, it was Hancock’s presence of mind that ended the Shockers' hopes.
Hancock hit the first of two free throws to give Louisville a 71–68 lead with nine seconds to go. He missed the second and Shockers freshman Ron Baker got the rebound. But it was Hancock who tied him up. The possession arrow was pointing Louisville’s way, creating the final Wichita turnover with 6.3 seconds left.
“I was forced to dribble the ball because I lost my balance,” Baker said. “I thought the ball was loose before the whistle was blown. I tapped it to Malcolm, but they already called a jump ball.”
Smith made one free throw. The last Wichita State chance had come and gone, and with it, the dream of reaching the championship game.