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ATLANTA (RNN) - Louisville cranked up the defensive intensity late in the second half to knock off Wichita State 72-68 and earn its way into the NCAA men's basketball final.
"That was a great team we beat," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. "I watched 10 or 12 films; when you watch [Wichita opponents] Ohio State, LaSalle and all these teams down 20, and they can't score against this team - I knew it going in.
"I kept telling our guys, 'Look guys, this is a dog fight tonight.'"
The Shockers built as much as a 12-point lead in the first of Saturday's two Final Four contests. The No. 9 seed appeared more physical for most of the game, finding their way to the basket and getting to the free throw line on a regular basis.
Louisville, the top overall seed, started its second half comeback with a pair of 3-pointers by Tim Henderson in less than a minute. And after not turning the ball over once for 13 minutes of the second half, the Shockers gave it up five times as the Cardinals' full-court pressure defense began to wear them down.
"Louisville gets credit for that," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. "In the course of a 40-minute game against some of the best pressure you're going to see every time the ball is inbounded, we had 11 turnovers so that's not bad."
Russ Smith finished with 21 points on 6 of 17 shooting for Louisville, and Luke Hancock added 20. Overall, the team shot 45 percent from the floor, including 9 for 25 from behind the 3-point line.
The Cardinals' Chane Behanan finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, including a tip-in with three minutes remaining to break the tie and give his team the game's final lead change.
With six seconds left, the Shockers got the ball off a rebound and trailing 71-68. But Hancock tied up Wichita's Ron Baker for a jump ball, giving his team possession and control of the game.
Wichita's Cleanthony Early had one of his best games of the season, going for 24 points on 8 of 14 shooting and 10 rebounds.
"It hurts to have to lose and it be the end of your season," Early said. "But these guys fought till the end. We had a great season. We have to keep our heads high and know the grind doesn't stop; we're always invested in getting better."
Pitino also spoke after the game about possible opponents in Monday's national final.
"We don't have to prepare too much if we play [Big East rival] Syracuse," he said. "Certainly, we have a lot of preparation if we play Michigan. We know Syracuse really well. One of the key things when you're a pressing team is that you stretch, get a nice walk-through but don't use up your legs."
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Need something to help you get through two weeks of March Madness? Try playing Basketball Cliche Bingo. Mark off the words or phrases that are overused during each game of the tourney.More >>
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