It may not have come under the circumstances Coach Rick Pitino ever could have imagined, but Louisville is headed back to the Final Four for a second straight year.
The Cardinals showed remarkable resolve after watching guard Kevin Ware go down with a gruesome injury in the first half, pulling away from Duke for a 85-63 victory in the Midwest Region final. Led by guards Russ Smith (23 points) and Peyton Siva (14 points), Louisville proved to be too quick for the Blue Devils and used a 17-2 run after halftime to deal Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski just his second loss in 13 career Elite Eight appearances.
Forward Gorgui Dieng added 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Cardinals advanced to face Wichita State in the Final Four in Atlanta on Saturday.
Here’s Louisville posing with the trophy and Kevin Ware’s jersey twitter.com/BuzzFeedSports…
— BuzzFeed Sports (@BuzzFeedSports) March 31, 2013
But after the game, much of the discussion revolved around Ware, who landed awkwardly near the Louisville bench after trying to block a Duke shot with about six minutes left in the first half. He remained on the floor for about 10 minutes before being taken off the court on a stretcher.
“His bone was sticking out of his shin,” Pitino’s son, Florida International Coach Richard Pitino, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. Richard Pitino is a former Louisville assistant and was seated about 25 feet away from where the injury occurred. “I’m only 30, but I’ve never seen something like that. It felt like cancelling the game. You feel almost silly cheering (after that).”
Louisville officials said Ware suffered a broken leg and was resting comfortably in a local hospital in Indianapolis as he awaited surgery. Rick Pitino said in a postgame interview that Ware broke his leg in two places and that it would take him at least a year to recover. He compared it to an injury suffered by former Louisville running back Michael Bush back in 2006.
“We won this for him. We talked about it every timeout: ‘Bring Kevin home,’ ” Pitino said. Ware went to high school outside Atlanta. “As the bone’s six inches out of his leg, all he’s yelling is, ‘Win the game.’ I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As Louisville celebrated its win on the sideline in the waning moments of regulation, forward Chase Behanan put on Ware’s No. 5 jersey.
Cool gesture by Chane Behanan putting on Kevin Ware’s jersey at end. twitter.com/GoodmanCBS/sta…
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) March 31, 2013
The defeat means the ACC will go without a Final Four team for three straight years for the first time since 1958-1961. Sunday’s game was the first meeting in the NCAA tournament between Krzyzewski and Pitino since Duke and Kentucky clashed in an epic regional final back in 1992. The Blue Devils won on a last-second field goal by Laettner, a replay that has been shown countless times since.
This time, though, Pitino came out on top and moves on to his seventh career Final Four appearance.