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Final Four preview: Louisville vs. Wichita State

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Keys for a Louisville victory

1 Pressure » Louisville forces 18.6 turnovers per game, second most in the nation, making effective use of its fullcourt press. The Cardinals have the ability to rattle the Shockers, who commit 12.7 turnovers per game, ranking in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley Conference. Losing guard Kevin Ware to a broken leg hurts the Cardinals' depth and ability to swarm. It means more playing time for reserve Luke Hancock, an agile 6-foot-6 junior with the length and quickness to compensate. He should match up well with 6-3 Ron Baker, who has been a big key for the Shockers.

2 Defend the perimeter » Wichita State pulled off its upset of No. 1 Gonzaga by hitting 14 of 28 shots from beyond the arc. Six different Shockers contributed to the splurge, including 6-foot-8 Cleanthony Early, who hit four of his seven 3-point attempts. Seven Wichita State players have hit at least 20 3-pointers this season. Defending the arc -- especially when the Shockers are able to beat the Cardinals' fullcourt press -- will be a major priority for Louisville. The 3-pointer is Wichita State's best chance to pull off an upset of another top-seeded team.

Keys for a Wichita State victory

Final Four
Louisville vs. Wichita State
When » Saturday, 6:09 p.m.
Where » Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV » CBS

1 Tempo » Louisville's relentlessness on both offense and defense has the potential to unravel the best of teams. Consider how Duke, with three senior starters and three strong ball-handlers, came apart in the second half against the Cardinals in the South Region final because it lost control of the flow. "Controlling the tempo of the game is vital," Dick Vitale of ESPN said in a teleconference Wednesday. "Bottom line is they can't allow Louisville to go on spurts. When [Louisville] gets defensive pressure, forces turnovers, gets layups, up and down, that's the way they break games open."

2 Defend » Wichita State has been amazingly consistent on defense in the tournament, holding each of its opponents to less than 36 percent shooting. Doing that against a Louisville team that has hit at least 52.7 percent of its shots in each of its four NCAA games will not be easy. The Shockers don't extend or gamble, preferring to play position defense and contest shots. If Wichita State can minimize transition chances, it is capable of frustrating the Cardinals in the halfcourt. "They've got to make Louisville a jump-shooting team," ESPN's Seth Greenberg said.

Key matchup

Peyton Siva (Louisville) vs. Malcolm Armstead (Wichita State)

Armstead, a transfer from Oregon, proved his mettle against Ohio State's Aaron Craft, collecting 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Now comes another huge challenge in Siva, the Cardinals' emotional heart-and-soul who was stellar in a win over Duke (16 points, four assists, zero turnovers) but is prone to erratic play on offense. He scored two points in 41 minutes in Louisville's last loss -- in five overtimes at Notre Dame.

By the numbers

718 Points scored this year by Louisville junior guard Russ Smith (18.9 ppg), the most by a player in this year's Final Four.

14 Consecutive games won by Louisville. The other three teams in the Final Four lost in their respective conference tournaments.

3 Junior college products in the rotation of Wichita State -- senior Carl Hall (12.5 ppg) and juniors Cleanthony Early (13.7 ppg) and Nick Wiggins (5.0 ppg).

48 Years since Wichita State made its lone Final Four appearance, when it lost in the semifinals to UCLA 108-89. This is the 10th Final Four trip for Louisville.

Road to Final Four

Louisville

Defeated N.C. A&T in second round 79-48

Defeated Colorado State in third round 82-56

Defeated Oregon in regional semifinal 77-69

Defeated Duke in regional final 85-63

Wichita State

Defeated Pittsburgh in second round 73-55

Defeated Gonzaga in third round 76-70

Defeated La Salle in regional semifinal 72-58

Defeated Ohio State in regional final 70-66

Examiner predicts ...

After winning the Big East tournament last year, Louisville was on a similar roll but ran into an overwhelmingly talented Kentucky team in the semifinals, losing 69-61. With all five starters serving as key pieces, that experience will serve the Cardinals well Saturday night. They will use their superior quickness, experience, motivation and pedigree to roll to a decisive victory behind the best player on the floor, guard Russ Smith.

Louisville 72, Wichita State 57

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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