Rallying around injured teammate Kevin Ware, Louisville dominated Duke to win the Midwest Regional and earn a spot in the Final Four.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville basketball team didn't need extra motivation to push past Duke, 85-63, in the Midwest Regional final and earn a place in the NCAA Final Four Sunday.
But the extra motivation developed late in the first half in a most unfortunate manner:
Cardinals guard Kevin Ware suffered a compound fracture to his right leg while trying to block a three-point field goal attempt by Duke's Tyler Thornton with about 6 1/2 minutes to play.
The game was stopped for about 10 minutes before Ware was transported to Methodist Hospital about two miles from Lucas Oil Stadium. Several tributes to Ware -- #WinForWare, #KevinWare and #PrayForWare – trended on Twitter throughout the second half.
"I went over and I was going to help him up -- and then I saw what it was," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "I literally almost threw up. Then I just wanted to get a towel to get it over that, but all the players came over and saw it ... It was gruesome sight, nothing like anything I've ever witnessed before in a basketball game.
"We won it for him. We were choked up with emotion for him … The bone was six inches out of his leg and all he kept saying was, ‘Win the game. Win the game.' Pretty special young man."
"When Kevin went down it was devastating to all of us," U of L guard Peyton Siva said. "Kevin Ware was really the reason we pulled this game out."
The Cards' led 21-20 when the injury occurred. Players from both teams dropped to their knees on the court. Pitino wiped away tears before the game resumed, as did Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. The Cards briefly lost the lead and then regrouped to push ahead 35-32 at halftime.
The second half? Total mismatch. Russ Smith split the Duke defense for an old-fashioned three-point play to put Louisville ahead 45-42 with 15:44 left. Then Peyton Siva made consecutive baskets to put the Cards ahead by seven.
Duke never had a chance after that as the Cards easily flipped the script from the 76-71 game the Blue Devils won between the teams last November in The Bahamas when Gorgui Dieng did not play.
"The only way to beat them is to take them to a fifth overtime -- and we weren't going to do that today," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
This time the Cards crowded Duke shooter Seth Curry on the perimeter, making it difficult for him to make his trademark three-point shot. He scored only 12 points. Duke forward Ryan Kelly drew three fouls in the first half and was largely ineffective.
Russ Smith led Louisville with 23 points. He was named the regional's most outstanding player and has scored 104 points in the Cards' four NCAA Tournament victories. Peyton Siva scored 16 points, Gorgui Dieng 14 (with 11 rebounds) and Luke Hancock had 10.
"Coach did a great job of keeping this team together and reach our goals," Smith said. "It's so hard to get there."
"Humility is the key thing for this team," Siva said.
At game's end, U of L forward Chane Behanan put on Ware's Number 5 jersey. Ware and Behanan are best friends.
"It's the best team we've played," Krzyzewski said. "We missed some shots and they just spurted ... That's what they do to teams, they can boom you. My vocabulary isn't very good but I hope you understand what I mean. It's a positive thing -- for them, not for us."
By winning, Louisville earned a game against Wichita State at the Final Four in Atlanta on Saturday. Michigan and Syracuse will play in the other semifinal. The Cards will carry a 14-game winning streak to the Georgia Dome.
The Final Four will be the seventh for U of L coach Rick Pitino, his third at U of L. Pitino is two victories away from becoming the first coach in college basketball history to win a national championship at two different schools, and on Monday April 8, Pitino will learned if he has been voted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.