The NCAA tournament’s most dominant and inspired team meets this year’s darling as the No. 1 Louisville Cardinals face the No. 9 Wichita State Shockers Saturday night in the first Final Four match up in Atlanta.
The 33-5 Cardinals didn’t allow Kevin Ware’s horrific injury to thwart their ousting of Duke in the Midwest Region final last week, and Louisville earned the 10th Final Four trip in school history in an 85-63 rout.
In first half, Ware snapped his right tibia in two different places, and his teammates, along with head coach Rick Pitino could be seen crying for the sophomore guard.
Before he was taken off the court on a stretcher, Ware told his team to win, and the Cardinals put together a 50-31 burst in the second half led by Gorgui Dieng’s 14 points and 11 rebounds, and guard Rush Smith’s 23 points.
Earlier this week, Pitino was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. With a career record of 662-239, Pitino has taken three different schools to the Final Four. It’s been 17 years since Pitino last won a national title with Kentucky in 1996.
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall hopes to extend Pitino’s championship drought.
The No. 9 Shockers added Ohio State to their list of victims last week to reach the second Final Four in school history.
Forward Cleanthony Early started his second straight game and collected 12 points and seven rebounds, and Malcolm Armstead had 14 points, seven rebounds, and three steals in Wichita State’s 70-66 win over the Buckeyes in the West Regional final.
Guard Fred VanVleet led the bench with 12 points and the Shockers defense held Ohio State to 31 percent shooting, including 5-for-25 from 3-point range.
Before their current run, the Shockers hadn’t won a NCAA tournament game since 2006, but are now poised to reach the championship game for the first time in school history.
The game tips-off at 6:09 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast by CBS, or watch their free live online steam at NCAA March Madness official site here.
Betting Odds: Louisville is favored by 11 points.
Over/Under: 133 points
Prediction: Wichita State has the perimeter defense to slow down Smith, but will have their hands full inside against Dieng. This should be a lower scoring game than the Cardinals have become accustomed to during the tournament. Louisville guard Peyton Siva should be the difference and the Cardinals will move on.
Predicted Score: Louisville 63, Wichita State 55