ATLANTA — His Louisville teammates tried to say all the right things about walk-on Tim Henderson and the two monstrous 3-pointers he swished in the second half of the Cardinals' 72-68 Final Four semifinal victory over Wichita State.
After all, without those 3s Louisville might never have escaped the 12-point hole it was in with 13:36 to play against the aptly named Shockers.
"We all have confidence in Tim," said fellow reserve Luke Hancock, who led the 'Ville with 20 points, including 14 in the second half.
"He works so hard in practice," point guard Peyton Siva said. "I was so ecstatic for him."
But then the truth came out. Yes, they were happy for their teammate, but they were also more than a little surprised.
"I guess this makes up for him shooting it off the side of the backboard in Madison Square Garden," Siva added with a grin.
"Being very kind," Cardinals boss Rick Pitino began, "I was shocked."
Not that Ricky P had much of a choice. Russ Smith was on the bench with three fouls. The Cardinals were in their worst funk in six weeks, having let a one-point halftime deficit slip to a 12-point canyon.
And as the whole world knows by now, super sub Kevin Ware couldn't come to the rescue, though he did drag his broken right leg to the end of the bench, where he propped it up on a chair while wearing his uniform.
"For a second, I thought he was about to sub in," Siva said of the moment in the second half when Pitino called a 30-second timeout just before Henderson's heroics began and Ware limped to the back of the huddle.
"He just wanted to tell us to pick it up."
Just like that, the lightly used Henderson -- playing at all only because of Ware's injury -- came to the rescue.
How insignificant was Henderson in Louisville's plans before Ware went down? He'd failed to score so much as a single point in 33 of the Cardinals' 38 games, failing to get on the court at all in 13 of their contests.
He'd hit just four 3s in 17 attempts this season,and one of those makes came at the buzzer of last weekend's 22-point win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final.
In fact, it was so easy to forget the junior walk-on that when the Louisville Courier-Journal printed a special section for the Cards' Final Four appearance a year ago, a last-minute shift in number of pages caused the newspapers to leave Henderson's bio out altogether.
Yet when Ware horrifically broke his leg against Duke, Henderson had to play. Especially when Smith picked up his third foul with 17:31 to go.
At that moment, Wichita led 32-28. That advantage would swell to 47-35 against the tournament's overall No. 1 seed. If ever there was a spot for an upset, for Pitino to fall in the semifinals for the fifth time in his seven Final Four appearances, this appeared to be it.
But within 22 seconds, the Louisville coach sent Henderson into the game, then positioned him in the right corner. At the 13-minute mark he swished his first 3-pointer of the night to pull the Redbirds within 47-38. Then he struck again 42 seconds later from the same spot.
Now Louisville was within 47-41. Now it was a game, eventually to become Louisville's first appearance in the championship game since "Never Nervous" Purvis Ellison led U of L to the 1986 NCAA title.
"We call ourselves the Zone Busters in practice," Henderson said afterward.
Added Hancock: "Tim and I feel like we're pretty good shooters. Tim hits shots like that all the time in practice."
But this wasn't practice. This was the Final Four with your team down 12.
Said Pitino: "I really wasn't shocked that Tim made them. I was shocked that he had the gumption to take it, then take it again. That's pretty darn big on this stage."
As the game ended and the Cardinals hugged each other, a sign appeared in Louisville's cheering section proclaiming, "This Is A Ware House."
Still in operation because Ware's substitute came up pretty darn big inside it.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...