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Louisville 72, Wichita State 68

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ATLANTA -- No. 1 seed and tournament favorite Louisville was in trouble.

Wichita State was handling the Cardinals' trademark pressure. The Shockers wouldn't wilt. Until they did.

Louisville rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to knock off gritty Wichita State 72-68 in a Final Four thriller on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.

The Cardinals (34-5), winners of 15 straight, advance to face the Syracuse-Michigan winner on Monday in the national championship game.

But it was anything but easy.

Russ Smith led Louisville with 20 points and Luke Hancock added 19 points, including a corner 3-pointer that gave the Cardinals their first lead of the second half at 56-55 with 6:30 to play.

Hancock hit another 3-pointer with two minutes left that put the Cardinals up five and ignited calls of "Luuuuuuuke" from the Cardinals faithful. Hancock did most of his damage from outside but found his way to the rim on two nifty drives that were a part of a 25-9 Louisville run.

Cleanthony Early scored a game-high 24 points for ninth-seeded Wichita State (30-9).

Early's tip-in cut the Louisville lead to 68-66 with 31.6 seconds to play. But Hancock created a turnover on a held ball and Smith made a free throw to put the Cardinals up four with eight seconds to play.

Injured Louisville guard Kevin Ware made his way to the Louisville bench as the time ticked down. Ware suffered a broken leg in the Cardinals' win over Duke in the Elite Eight and has been a major inspiration for Rick Pitino's club.

Walk-on Tim Henderson, stepping in for Ware, hit two corner 3-pointers to get the Cardinals back in the game after they fell behind by 12,

Whether it was the dome setting or nerves, both teams went through scoring droughts in a low-scoring, back-and-forth first half that was called tightly.

Wichita State scored the first eight points. Louisville didn't score until Russ Smith made a breakaway layup at the 14:30 mark. The basket ignited a 9-0 run and got Louisville's leading scorer going.

Smith opened the game by missing four straight free throws, throwing up an airball from the corner and turning the ball over in traffic. He found his rhythm later in the half and hit three 3-pointers to help the Cardinals stay in a first half that featured eight lead changes.

Malcolm Armstead, who has carried the Shockers offensively in the tournament, also started slow. The senior missed all six of his shots from the field and went scoreless in the first half.

Early, Carl Hall and Ron Baker picked up the scoring slack, helping the Shockers take a 26-25 lead into halftime.

NOTES: Wichita State reached the Final Four for the second time in school history and first since 1965. The 48 years between tournament appearances is the fourth longest ever. ... Louisville is in the Final Four for the 10th time. Only North Carolina (18), UCLA (17), Duke (15), Kentucky (15), Kansas (14) and Ohio State (11) have more appearances. ... Pitino is the first coach to take three different teams to the Final Four. ... Wichita State is the first Missouri Valley Conference team to reach the Final Four since Indiana State in 1979. ... Louisville wore long-sleeved white T-shirts with "Ri5e to the Occasion" on the front and the No. 5 on the back in honor of Ware. ... Actor Will Ferrell and New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft were among the celebrities in attendance. ... Indiana coach Tom Crean, former UConn coach Jim Calhoun and former Louisville coach Denny Crum were all seated near each other.
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