As of Thursday, April 4, 2013
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Apr 4, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino during a press conference before the Final Four at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Louisville overcame a gruesome injury to one of its best players and ended up dominating Duke to reach the Final Four. To earn a spot in the championship game, the top-seeded Cardinals will have to get by Cinderella Wichita State on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament in Atlanta. The Shockers had a surprisingly easy run to the Final Four, knocking off top-seeded Gonzaga in the third round and running out to a big lead before holding off second-seeded Ohio State in the Elite 8.
The Cardinals will bring Rockdale grad Kevin Ware with them to Atlanta and will draw inspiration from their fallen teammate, who encouraged his teammates to win even as his tibia was coming through the skin in the first half of the Elite 8 win over the Blue Devils. Ware is out of the hospital and is making his way around on crutches. Wichita doesn't have that type of story to capture the media's attention, but it does have a solid defensive team that will try to throttle the Cardinals' high-octane offense. The Shockers have a balanced offense and are a strong rebounding team that will try to keep Louisville from getting out on the break.
ABOUT WICHITA STATE (30-8): The Shockers are the first Missouri Valley Conference team to reach the Final Four since Larry Bird's Indiana State team in 1979 and will be trying to become the first ninth seed to reach the national championship game. Wichita State has played two Big East teams this season and easily handled them both, knocking off DePaul 75-62 on Nov. 20 and coasting by Pittsburgh 73-55 in the NCAA Tournament opener. Shockers guard Tekele Cotton shut down Panthers point guard Tray Woodall in that matchup and will be trying to do the same against Peyton Siva and Russ Smith on Saturday. Wichita led by as many as 20 points in the second half against Ohio State before holding on down the stretch. Cotton hit a key 3-pointer in the final minutes and Malcolm Armstead led the way with 14 points in the 70-66 triumph. The Shockers limited the Buckeyes to 31.1 percent from the field and will need a similar defensive effort to stick with the Cardinals.
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (33-5): The Cardinals, who are the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, have done nothing to suggest that the lofty ranking is anything but accurate. With Ware out, the main issue will be keeping starting point guard Siva out of foul trouble Saturday. Siva runs the break and leads a team with more speed than any other remaining squad. Smith has used his speed to evade defenders and score 20 or more points in each of the four NCAA Tournament games. The Ware injury robs Louisville of some of its depth, but the Cardinals will still go eight or nine players deep to keep the full-court press and transition offense fresh. Louisville center Gorgui Dieng has added a different element to his offensive game with a 15-foot jump shot and has gone 20-for-24 from the field in the Tournament to go along with 30 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. Coach Rick Pitino is making his seventh Final Four appearance -- second straight -- and will be trying to win the National Championship for the first time since guiding Kentucky in 1996.
Louisville has won 14 straight games and needs one more to set a school record for wins in a season.
Wichita State is in the Final Four for the first time since 1965.
The Cardinals have shot at least 50 percent from the field in each of their four NCAA Tournament games.
PREDICTION: Louisville 78, Wichita State 69