2013 NCAA Tournament: Louisville Makes Clock Strike Midnight on Cinderella Wichita State

USA TODAY Sports

No team pushed Louisville as hard as Wichita State all tournament long. They just couldn't push hard long enough.

The magic finally ran out. After game after game where double-digit leads in this NCAA Tournament have been safe for Wichita State -- even as they tried to give it away against Ohio State -- Louisville finally figured out how to get past the bruising nature of Wichita State.

Maybe it was the clutch shooting by walk-on Tim Henderson, who made two clutch 3-pointers as the Cardinals came back. Maybe it was all thanks to an air-ball free throw by Ehimen Orukpe. Something snapped.

So Wichita State will take the long flight home after falling in the Final Four, 72-68 to the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It is a team that should walk away with its head held high. No team has played Louisville as tough as the Shockers. No team was able to get Louisville down by as many as five points in this NCAA Tournament. No team was put the Cardinals in the role of the comeback kids in the second half.

No, no one had played Louisville better, and almost beat them at their own game.

Wichita State did almost everything it could.

It neutralized the game of Gorgui Dieng, annoying him into foul trouble, and sending him to the bench. The player who was so crucial for the Cardinals all season was no able to score a point.

It played the ball control game perfectly, committing just four turnovers in the first half, and then going 26 minutes without turning the ball over again. Until two gaffes in the second half killed that run -- and might have been a nother reason why the magic ran out -- this team was making a mockery of the stats that said Louisville was the best defensive team in the country.

It worked the end game to perfection, fouling and then extending the last minute. Louisville couldn't hit its free throws, and Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall had huge offensive rebounds to keep the game within reach.

Were it not for Ron Baker losing his balance as he corralled Luke Hancock's missed free throw with just eight seconds left, and walking into Hancock's arms for a jump ball, this could have kept going just a little longer.

The Shockers would have needed a 3-pointer -- something that is not their forte -- to tie this again. But given the way things have gone in this Tournament to this point, it was not beyond belief that there was some magic, probably in Baker's hands.

Wichita State had the country believing it could happen as they watched Early score 24 points and grab 10 rebounds, and listened multiple times as to how he had come from a Division III JUCO to get to this point.

They had to believe as Ron Baker added 11 points and eight rebounds. From the small town in Kansas -- where he had a day named after him by the mayor -- to the biggest stage he will probably play on, and the guy didn't lose a beat.

But it wasn't to be as the bench of Louisville managed to bring them back. Hancock put in 20 points, including three 3-pointers that helped the Cardinals hold their advantage over the final portion of the game. There were the Henderson threes, and then there was Stephan Van Treese who provided the size advantage when Dieng was quarantined on the bench with his fourth foul.

The role players did it again for Louisville: they are no longer the understudies; they are ready to take the lead role, one that will need to continue into Monday night.

But you have to take a deep breath and hold back the tears right now. There will be no mid-major team into the finals. There will be no championship trophy going home to a place it has never seen before.

Wichita State fought like it all its fans knew it could, like it truly belonged with the teams it was facing -- and it did, despite everyone trying to say that the Shockers shouldn't be here.

The Shocker team might have won ugly throughout the last two weeks, but it was a beauty to watch.

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