Louisville, inspired by the gruesome injury to Kevin Ware but needing others to step up while he’s down, got an even bigger contribution off the bench than Michigan.
Luke Hancock scored 20 points. Walk-on Tim Henderson, moving up in the rotation because of Ware’s broken leg, knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers that turned the momentum when it looked as though Wichita State might pull off another shocker.
There’s always a chance for the more obscure players to step up on the biggest stages.
“Those guys, not that you don’t pay attention to them, but your strategy is not toward them.” Pitino said. “We’re all trying to stop the great players defensively, choreograph our defensive plan to stop the great players.”
But there’s no doubt that Michigan needs Burke to have a much better game, especially against Louisville fearsome press, just as the Cardinals will be counting on Russ Smith to lead the way. He scored 21 points in the semifinals despite a woeful night at the foul line.
Smith is on the verge of completing quite a journey, considering it looked for a while like he might not even finish his career with the Cardinals. Unhappy with his playing time and constantly sparring with Pitino, the now-junior guard considered transferring after his freshman season.
Boy, he’s sure glad he stayed.
“I was leaving, but I talked to my dad and decided to come back,” Smith remembered. “I decided to work hard and try to earn some minutes.”
He still gets into it with Pitino from time to time — remember, the coach dubbed him “Russdiculous” for some of the shots he puts up — but it’s hard to envision where this team might be without him.
“I just try to make winning plays,” Smith said. “I don’t look at myself as a point guard or a shooting guard. I look at myself as a winning player.”