INDIANAPOLIS — Crying and shaken by the sight of Kevin Ware writhing on the court, his right leg splintered, Rick Pitino and his Louisville players had no idea how they were going to pull it together with a half still left to play and a Final Four berth on the line.
Ware showed them the way.
“I don’t think we could have gathered ourselves — I know I couldn’t have — if Kevin didn’t say over and over again, ‘Just go win the game,’” Pitino said. “I don’t think we could have gone in the locker room with a loss after seeing that. We had to gather ourselves. We couldn’t lose this game for him.
“We just couldn’t.”
With Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng leading the way, the Cardinals finally shook off their grief early in the second half, erupting for a 13-2 run that Duke was powerless to answer. The 85-63 victory clinched a second straight trip to the Final Four for the top-seeded Cardinals, who are determined to win it all for Ware, a New York City native who moved to the Atlanta area for high school.
The Cardinals (33-5) will play Wichita State in the national semifinals next Saturday. The ninth-seeded Shockers (30-8) added to their streak of upsets with a 70-66 victory over Ohio State on Saturday night.
As the final seconds ticked down, Ware’s best friend on the team, Chane Behanan, put on the guard’s No. 5 jersey and stood at the end of the bench, screaming. Cardinals fans chanted “Kevin Ware! Kevin Ware!”
“We talked about it every timeout, ‘Get Kevin home,’” Pitino said.
Smith finished with 23 points and earned Most Outstanding Player honors for the Midwest Region. Siva added 16, while Dieng had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Duke. But the Blue Devils (30-6) couldn’t overcome a poor start by Seth Curry, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half, or their foul trouble.
With 6:33 left in the first half, Ware, who has played a key role in Louisville’s 14-game winning streak, jumped to try and block Tyler Thornton’s 3-point shot. When he landed, Ware’s right leg snapped midway between his ankle and knee, the bone skewing almost at a right angle. Ware dropped to the floor right in front of the Louisville bench and, almost in unison, his teammates turned away in horror. Thornton grimaced, putting his hand to his mouth as he turned around.
“I heard it, and then I seen what happened, (the bone) come out,” Smith said. “I immediately just, like, fell. I almost didn’t feel nothing.”
Pitino went to help Ware up and then saw the leg, which broke in two places.
“I literally almost threw up,” Pitino said, his voice catching. “Then I just wanted to get a towel to get it over that. But all the players came over and saw it.”
Louisville forward Wayne Blackshear fell to the floor, and Behanan looked as if he was going to be sick on the court, kneeling on his hands and feet. Luke Hancock patted Ware’s chest as doctors worked on the sophomore and Smith walked away, pulling his jersey over his eyes. The arena was silent, and several fans wept and bowed their heads.
Pitino had tears in his eyes as he tried to console his players. Dieng draped an arm around the shoulders of Smith, who repeatedly wiped at his eyes and shook his head.
“It was really hard for me to pull myself together,” Smith said. “I didn’t ever think in a million years I would ever see something like that. And that it happened, especially, to a guy like Kevin Ware, I was completely devastated.”
As the Cardinals (33-5) gathered at halfcourt to try and regroup before play resumed, Pitino called them over to the sideline, saying Ware wanted to talk to them before he left.
News of the injury dominated social media. Joe Theismann, whose NFL career ended with a horrific broken leg, said on Twitter, “Watching Duke/ Louisville my heart goes out to Kevin Ware.”
ARLINGTON, Texas — Trey Burke and Michigan had the perfect response for everyone who said they were too young or not tough enough to make it all the way to Atlanta.
The championship trophy for the South Region is headed back to Ann Arbor, while another fabulous group of young Wolverines is going to the Final Four.
Led by Burke and sharp-shooting guard Nik Stauskas, one of three freshmen starters, Michigan controlled Florida from start to finish.
“It means the world — 20 years has passed and we haven’t been on that stage yet,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., the junior elder statesman in the starting lineup.
The last time Michigan made it this far was the Fab Five era of the early 1990s, what until now had been considered the program’s glory years.
Might be time to start rethinking that.
Once they got ahead Sunday, the Wolverines (30-7) maintained a double-digit lead against the experienced Gators (29-8), who won the regular-season title in the Southeastern Conference but lost in a regional final for the third straight year.
Stauskas scored 22 points while making all six of his 3-pointers. Burke, the South Region’s most outstanding player, scored 15 points even while dealing with some spasms in his upper back, and 6-foot-10 freshman Mitch McGary had 11 points and nine rebounds.
When the game ended, Burke and several of his teammates went to the opposite side of the court toward Michigan fans behind press row with fingers raised. Fans were chanting, “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine!”
And great to be young.
“Seeing it all come together, I don’t what to say,” sixth-year Wolverines coach John Beilein said.
Michigan hadn’t reached the Final Four since consecutive finals appearances in 1992 and 1993, the freshman and sophomore seasons of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.
Webber was gone before that team’s 1994 regional final loss to Arkansas played in the now-demolished Reunion Arena in Dallas, with Rose and Howard following him to the NBA after that.
With four wins in this NCAA tourney, the Wolverines already have more tournament victories than their total (three) from the end of the Fab Five era to this season. They won a game in 1998, and then didn’t even make the field again until 2009.
Burke is from Columbus, Ohio, and grew up an Ohio State football fan while rooting for Duke basketball. The sophomore still knew of the Wolverines’ history and isn’t surprised to be back in the Final Four again so quickly after arriving in Ann Arbor.