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The Hidden Valley graduate is perfect from 3-point range and sparks a key rally late in the first half, then Louisville goes on to beat Michigan.
Louisville's Luke Hancock (right) embraces Russ Smith after defeating Michigan.
Michigan guard Trey Burke (3) pursues the ball against Louisville guard/forward Luke Hancock (11) during the first half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 8, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
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, the Roanoke resident who graduated from Hidden Valley High School, went 5 for 5 from 3-point range on Monday as Louisville claimed a 82-76 win over Michigan in the NCAA Tournament final.
Hancock, a backup forward better known as “Plan B” for Rick Pitino’s talented team, went on a shooting spree for the ages Monday night, making four straight 3-pointers over a two-minute span late in the first half to help pull Louisville out of a double-digit deficit and into a one-point lead.
On the strength of a 22-point night that added to his 20 points in the national semifinal, Hancock was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player — the first reserve to take that award.
“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.”
It’s no small feat to come off the bench and win that type of award for the Cardinals. This is a team led by the scoring of Russ Smith, the patient tenacity of Peyton Siva and the shot-blocking and rebounding of Gorgui Dieng. The presence of Pitino to say nothing of the story of Ware and his broken leg made Hancock, a junior transfer from George Mason, something of an afterthought.
Hard to imagine that’s the case anymore.
“I just thought we needed something,” said Hancock, whose 100-percent mark from 3 is, of course, a title-game record. “I tried to do whatever I could to help the team. I usually take a back seat to Russ and Peyton, which I’m fine with since they are such great players. I just hit a few shots.”
He finished with 22 points to add to the 20 from Saturday night's semifinals.
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 nonetheless to see his son become the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
“There’s no way to describe how it feels that my dad was here,” Luke Hancock said.
It was quite a finish for a team that had its best player struggling and its main backup on the bench with a broken leg.
Louisville still had more than enough to win its third national title.
Siva and Chane Behanan joined in with monster second halves to lead the top-seeded Cardinals (35-5) to their first national title since 1986.
As the final seconds ticked off, Hancock looked at the Louisville fans and screamed.
When the buzzer sounded, the Cardinals rushed to center court and began jumping as fireworks exploded in the Georgia Dome and confetti fell onto the floor.
Pitino added this title to the one he won at Kentucky in 1996 and is the first coach to win a championship at two schools. Earlier in the day, Pitino was elected to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
While Siva leaped off the floor to hug his family when the buzzer sounded, a beaming Ware hobbled onto the court to join his teammates. Behanan picked up two cheerleaders and, with one in each arm, carried them to the mosh pit that quickly formed at center court.
Louisville wasn't exactly deep before Ware snapped his tibia in the Midwest Regional final, and Pitino candidly said his absence was going to cause "problems" for the Cardinals. Having Russ Smith revert to his wild and "Russdiculous" ways after being so brilliant in the first five games of the tournament didn't help matters.
Smith began the night 1 of 10, and finished with nine points on 3-of-16 shooting. It was his worst performance since the Big East title game, and well below the 25 points he'd averaged in the first five games of the tournament.
But in winning their final 16 games, the Cardinals always managed to find someone — anyone — to step up, and it wasn't going to be any different when the stakes were at their highest.
Trailing by 12 — the same deficit they faced against Wichita State on Saturday night — late in the first half, Hancock made one, two, three and then a fourth 3-pointer. As his hand hung in the air after the last one, the Georgia Dome shook with cheers of "LUUUUUUKE!" for the guy who is so respected by his teammates he was made a team captain before he was eligible to play his first game for Louisville.
Siva fed Montrezl Harrell for a monster dunk and, just like that, Louisville had a 37-36 lead just before the half.
Hancock is the third Cardinal to earn MOP honors — joining Darrell Griffith (1980) and Pervis Ellison (1986).
He became the first non-starter in a championship game to score 20-plus points since Ron Mercer in 1996, playing for Pitino at Kentucky.
“Coach Pitino made this feel like a home,” Hancock said. “I’m so excited for our team to be in this situation and finally be here.”
Robinson III 3-4 6-8 12, Burke 7-11 7-9 24, McGary 3-6 0-0 6, Hardaway Jr. 5-13 2-4 12, Stauskas 1-2 0-0 3, Albrecht 6-9 1-2 17, Horford 0-0 0-0 0, LeVert 0-1 0-0 0, Morgan 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 25-48 18-25 76.
Smith 3-16 2-3 9, Siva 6-15 6-6 18, Dieng 4-6 0-0 8, Blackshear 3-5 0-0 8, Behanan 6-12 3-4 15, Hancock 5-6 7-10 22, Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Harrell 1-1 0-0 2, Van Treese 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 18-23 82.
Halftime-Michigan 38-37. 3-Point Goals-Michigan 8-18 (Albrecht 4-5, Burke 3-5, Stauskas 1-2, LeVert 0-1, Robinson III 0-1, Hardaway Jr. 0-4), Louisville 8-16 (Hancock 5-5, Blackshear 2-3, Smith 1-6, Siva 0-2). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Michigan 27 (McGary 6), Louisville 32 (Behanan 12). Assists-Michigan 12 (Hardaway Jr. 4), Louisville 18 (Dieng 6). Total Fouls-Michigan 15, Louisville 22. A-74,326.
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