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"Pretty much every time I got the ball, I had two people in my face," he said. "I tried not to force anything, but I probably forced two or three shots. That 3 I hit (from way out and his only basket of the game) wasn’t a good shot. But I try not to force things and just look for different ways to find the open man."
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’s 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 personal 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 his wacky shots and perplexing antics — 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."
Pitino is certainly a winner.
He’s already the first coach to lead three schools to the Final Four. Now, he’s got a chance to become the first to win national titles at two schools, having led Kentucky to a championship in 1996.
Pitino isn’t worried about personal accolades.
He’d rather have a lifelong connection with this team.
"I haven’t thought about it for one second," Pitino insisted. "Everything we do is about the team, about the family. I’d be a total hypocrite if I said [winning another title is] really important. It really is not important. I want to win because I’m part of this team. That’s it."
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