ATLANTA – With an aching heart and a shot that couldn’t miss, Luke Hancock helped Kevin Ware and the rest of the Louisville Cardinals win their national title.
Given increased playing time and more shots because of Ware’s injury, Hancock almost singlehandedly brought Louisville back from a 12-point deficit in the first half Monday, going 5 for 5 from 3-point range in an 82-76 win over Michigan in the national title game.
Hancock finished with 22 points to add to the 20 from Saturday night’s semifinals and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
“We needed a rally and we’ve been doing it for a couple of games straight, being down,” Hancock said. “We just had to wait and make our run.”
Quite a performance from the player coach Rick Pitino was afraid to start because he wanted to keep him out of foul trouble.
Quite a treat for Hancock’s father, Bill, who is gravely ill with a sickness the family does not want to disclose, but made the trip down from Roanoke, Va., nonetheless to see his son become the star of the Final Four.
Some might say the junior, a transfer from George Mason, won the game for Louisville. It might be more appropriate to say he kept it from getting out of control. With leading scorer Russ Smith struggling and Michigan freshman Spike Albrecht doing his best Hancock impression by making his first four 3-pointers, Louisville fell behind by 12 in the first half and was struggling to find momentum.
In came Hancock. First he made two free throws. Then, he made shot after shot after shot after shot. Yes, four straight 3-pointers, accounting for 14 straight Louisville points as part of a 16-3 run that turned a 33-21 deficit into a one-point lead.
This marked the seventh time Louisville has come back from double digits to win this season.
Hancock’s father’s illness may have been the most poignant, untold story of this, a championship run dominated by news of Ware’s snapped tibia in the regional final that gave all the Cardinals a rallying point.
As for Hancock himself — well, he may not have been the best-known Cardinal coming in, but he’ll never have a problem getting a free drink in Louisville when he heads back there.
He was Plan B for Pitino, whose best scorer, Smith, went 3 for 16 in the final and 9 for 33 for the Final Four. Hancock’s stats: 5 of 6 in the final and 11 of 15 for the tournament. Talk about making the most of your touches.
After Hancock shot the Cardinals back within contact in the first half, Smith, Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan started scoring, slowly building a Louisville lead. Then it was Hancock with what was essentially the knockout blow — a 3-pointer with 3:27 left that put Louisville up by double digits for the first time all night.