NCAA Tournament | Louisville 85, Duke 63: Inspired Cardinals win
Mason Plumlee of Duke blocks a shot by Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear during the first half of the Midwest Regional final.
INDIANAPOLIS — With tears in their eyes and Kevin Ware in their hearts, there was no way the Louisville players were going to lose this game.
Russ Smith scored 23 points, Gorgui Dieng had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, and top-seeded Louisville put aside the shock from Ware’s gruesome leg injury to earn a second straight trip to the Final Four with an 85-63 victory over Duke yesterday in the Midwest Regional final.
As the final seconds ticked down, Chane Behanan put on Ware’s jersey and stood at the end of the Louisville bench, screaming. Cardinals fans chanted “Kevin Ware! Kevin Ware!”
“We won this for him,” coach Rick Pitino said. “We were all choked up with emotion for him. We’ll get him back to normal. We’ve got great doctors, great trainers.”
Ware played his high-school ball in Georgia, and the Final Four is in Atlanta, just adding to the emotion for the victorious Cardinals.
“We talked about it every timeout: Get Kevin home,” Pitino said.
This was the first time Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski had met in a regional final since the 1992 classic that ended with Christian Laettner’s improbable buzzer-beater against Kentucky, a game now considered one of the best in NCAA Tournament history.
This game will be remembered, too, but for a much different — and somber — reason.
With 6:33 left in the first half, Ware, who had played a key role in Louisville’s 14-game winning streak, jumped to try to block Tyler Thornton’s three-point shot. Ware landed awkwardly, and his right leg snapped midway between his ankle and knee, the bone skewing almost at a right angle. He dropped to the floor in front of the Louisville bench, and almost in unison, his teammates turned away in horror.
The Cardinals (33-5) gathered at midcourt to try and regroup before Pitino called them over to the sideline, saying Ware wanted to talk to them before he was taken off the court.
“Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots,” Pitino said. “Remember, the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he’s yelling is ‘Win the game, win the game.’ I’ve never seen anything like that. …
“We couldn’t lose this game for him. We just couldn’t.”
Fans chanted “Kevin! Kevin!” as Ware was loaded onto the stretcher, and Pitino wiped away tears as Ware was wheeled off the court.
“That was a tough one,” Pitino said.
Play resumed about 10 minutes later, but it was clear the Cardinals’ minds were elsewhere. Duke (30-6) pulled ahead, but Louisville used a 12-6 run to finish the half with a 35-32 lead.
The score was tied at 42 when the Cardinals went on a 20-4 run. Clawing for every rebound, diving on the floor for loose balls and cranking up the intensity on its ferocious defense even higher, Louisville was not going to lose. And everyone, Duke included, knew it.
“I thought we had a chance there, and then, ‘boom,’ ” Krzyzewski said. “That’s what they do to teams. They can ‘boom’ you.
“We got beat by a better team.”
Mason Plumlee finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Smith was named the outstanding player of the regional.
“When Kevin went down, it was devastating for all of us,” said Peyton Siva, who scored 16 points for Louisville, including seven in the decisive run. “We just came together, and Kevin Ware really was the reason why we pulled this game out.”