Hancock’s hot hand put Louisville back into title contention

Just call him ‘Hot Hand’ Luke.
As Louisville coach Rick Pitino noted, Monday night’s NCAA basketball championship game wasn’t short on story lines, but there was only one Most Outstanding Player Award handed out from the Final Four.
It went to the Cardinals’ Luke Hancock, who came off the bench to score 22 points to help lift Louisville to an 82-76 victory over Michigan.
With his ill father Bill watching from the stands in the Georgia Dome, Hancock hit 5 of 5 3-pointers, including four late in the first half to get the Cardinals back in the game after sub Spike Albrecht had sparked Michigan with his own offensive explosion.
The 22 points tied his career high, which he previously scored in a five-overtime loss at Notre Dame. That’s the last time the Cardinals lost a game, by the way.
Against Michigan, Hancock became the first player who has attempted at least three 3-pointers in a title game to make all of his shots from behind the arc. As a result, he became the first nonstarter to win the Final Four MOP trophy in a tournament that dates back to 1939.
He also became the first non-starter to score 20 more points in a championship game since Kentucky’s Ron Mercer in 1996. Yes, Pitino was Mercer’s coach, too.
It’s also interesting to note that when he chose to transfer from George Mason after Jim Larranaga left for Miami, Hancock’s top two choices were Louisville and …. Michigan.
The Wolverines may regret letting him get away.
With Louisville’s Russ Smith and Peyton Siva struggling, Pitino turned to the player who has become Mr. Reliable. Since Feb. 23, Hancock has made 28 of 49.
“As soon as we started to play Luke Hancock more, our half court offense evolved into something that was very special,” said Pitino.
Indeed, Hancock saved his best for last. With Louisville trailing 33-21 late in the first half, he scored 14 of Louisville’s 16 points to get the Cardinals within 38-37 at halftime.
Said Hancock: “I just thought we needed something. I tried to do whatever I could to help the team. I usually take a back seat to Russ and Peyton, which I’m fine with since they are such great players. I just hit a few shots.”
Humble and good.
Not bad for a Roanoke, Va., native who wasn’t even recruited by a Division I school out of high school. He changed perceptions with a year in prep school at Hargrave Military Academy, where one of his teammates was Indiana’s Maurice Creek.
After Hancock lit the comeback fuse, Smith (9), Siva (18) and Chane Behanan (15) got going to do their part to keep Louisville in command.

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About Randy Beard

Randy Beard has been at the Courier & Press since 2007 and became the sports editor in 2012. He has previously been a sports editor at the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail and the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat. He began his professional sports journalist career in 1976 and has spent his career primarily covering college sports in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. He's also covered the NFL, the original North American Soccer League and professional tennis and golf. He's covered two Super Bowls, three college football national championship games, dozens of NCAA basketball tournament games, an Olympics, a World Cup and once hung out with soccer legend George Best for two days and sat in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson.

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