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Louisville rallies past Wichita State for spot in title game

Luke Hancock Louisville’s sixth man scored 12 his 20 points down stretch. | Getty Images

Luke Hancock, Louisville’s sixth man, scored 12 of his 20 points down the stretch. | Getty Images

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Updated: May 8, 2013 7:04AM

ATLANTA — This is what championship teams do.

On a night when a lot was going wrong, Louisville rallied to defeat Wichita State 72-68 in the first Final Four game Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

The Cardinals (34-5), who trailed 47-35 with 131/2 minutes left, will meet Syracuse or Michigan in the national championship game Monday.

‘‘[The Shockers] are as well-coached a team as we have faced this season,’’ said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who will try to add a second national title to the one he won with Kentucky in 1996. ‘‘We beat a great team tonight. I just kept telling the guys, ‘We are going to make a run.’ It’s about our defense.’’

Sixth man Luke Hancock, who averages 7.4 points, scored 20 against Wichita to spark the Louisville rally.

‘‘We had to win with our second unit,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘[Hancock] is probably the best offensive player we have. The tempo was not ours. Give [the Shockers] credit. But the bench won the game for us.’’

After playing for 25 minutes without committing a turnover against a Cardinals defense that forces turnovers, the Shockers (30-9) made seven in the final seven minutes.

‘‘Down the stretch, we were loose with the ball,’’ guard Malcolm Armstead said. ‘‘We just didn’t take care of it. I can’t give you an explanation. It just happened.’’

Give a lot of credit to Louisville’s pressure on a night when its star, Russ Smith, had a miserable game. One of the nation’s best guards, Smith struggled at the free-throw line (5-for-12) and turned the ball over five times. He also picked up his third foul with 17:37 left on a needless play away from the basket.

When big man Gorgui Dieng picked up his fourth foul with 12:28 left, Louisville seemed to be in serious trouble.

But some unlikely heroes stepped up. Obscure guard Tim Henderson, elevated to a bigger role after Kevin Ware’s gruesome broken leg, drained back-to-back treys. Then there was Hancock, who scored 12 points down the stretch.

For Wichita State, the first Missouri Valley Conference team to reach the Final Four since Larry-Bird-led Indiana State in 1979, the disappointment ran deep. But the Shockers also knew what they had accomplished.

Cleanthony Early, who led all scorers with 24 points, kept the disappointment in perspective.

‘‘It’s just mixed emotions,’’ Early said. ‘‘It hurts to lose. But these guys fought till the end. We had a great season.’’

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