Luke Hancock sat in his locker with much of his right hand immersed in a GatorAde cup of ice water.
No, he wasn't cooling it off after the two hottest back-to-back performances of his Louisville career. Instead, the water served as a temporary solution prior to more extensive and beneficial treatment while he answered questions from the media.
Minutes earlier, Hancock had helped No. 18/14 UofL (14-3, 3-1 AAC) defeat SMU 71-63 Sunday afternoon in his first start of the season by scoring a career-high 23 points, despite having suffered a jammed finger on his right (shooting) hand early in the first half.
So in Louisville's Thursday night American Athletic Conference game against Houston (10-6, 2-1) in the KFC Yum! Center, the senior forward will be seeking his third consecutive 20-point outing. He had scored 20 in a 73-67 loss to Memphis last Thursday.
UofL coach Rick Pitino says Hancock is just now at full strength from an Achilles heel injury suffered in preseason, joking that "Not until the last two games has Luke been 100 percent. Now, he is not 100 percent defensively, but that has nothing to do with his Achilles."
Hancock has contributed double-digit points in the last four games, averaging 18.5 points during that stretch while shooting 49 percent from the field (21-of-43), with 11 3-pointers. Against SMU, he matched his season-best on 3-pointers with four (in nine attempts).
And Hancock is doing more than scoring. Against Memphis, he grabbed a season-high five rebounds and tied a career-high with five assists. In the win at Rutgers, he made all 10 of his free throw attempts, a career high and the best performance from the foul line by a Cardinal since Russ Smith went 10-for-10 last season against Seton Hall.
Now, if he would just bring his defense up to Pitino's standards. . .
"I just passed Coach Pitino in the hall," Hancock said, "and he said, 'Good job, Luke. . .on offense.'"
"I'm starting to feel a little bit better on the court, just getting into a rhythm," he added. "Physically, I felt pretty good awhile ago, but it takes awhile to really get into the flow of the games and know where you're going to get your looks and where you can find teammates, taking care of the little things."
On the season, Hancock is averaging 10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, shooting 38.3 percent (30 percent from 3-point range) and leads the team in free throw shooting at 86.4 percent (57-66). But, as noted, his offense has picked up dramatically recently. Hancock credited the alertness of guards Smith, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, along with power forward Montrezl Harrell[/db] with helping him get open shots and boost his scoring during his surge. Smith is averaging 4.9 assists per game.
"I'm just trying to stay aggressive and play off Russ and Terry and Trez," Hancock says. "Those guys and Chris Jones draw so much attention that if they're looking for me they can get me shots. Making some helps a little bit. Now I need to pick up my defense, rebounding and all-around game."
Hancock jammed his index finger less than three minutes into the SMU game and played the rest of the way wearing a splint with his two middle fingers taped together. But it certainly didn't affect his marksmanship. He scored 19 of his points in the second half, nailing 4-of-7 treys. During one stretch, he scored eight points in a row and 11 of Louisville's 13.
"He's a warrior, that's what he's always been," teammate Stephan Van Treese said of Hancock. "He's not going to let a little nagging thing keep him out. He'll fight through it."
Said SMU coach Larry Brown, who at 73 has been around hoops for awhile: "He's lucky he's playing with Russ Smith. That doesn't hurt. That little kid is trying to make everybody on his team better. But (Hancock) makes shots. I've watched him; he takes good shots and they do a great job of finding him when he's open. He's not afraid of the big stage."
NOTE-- Jones, who strained a muscle in his hip and played just 50 seconds of the second half against SMU, is considered day-to-day and won't play vs. Houston. It's the latest in a series of injuries for the 5-10 junior, who has also suffered a sprained ankle, sore knee and sprained wrist.