INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The euphoria that should have accompanied Louisville’s second consecutive trip to the Final Four was understandably subdued following their 85-63 triumph over Duke, in the wake of a teammate’s horrific injury.
Sophomore guard Kevin Ware suffered what appeared to be a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula of his lower right leg late in the first half, and the gruesome aftermath left his teammates, coaches and nearby onlookers literally reduced to tears. The game was delayed for nearly ten minutes while trainers tended to Ware, as the Cardinal players tried to gather their composure and rally around their fallen teammate. As Ware laid on the floor, with the fractured bone of his lower leg sticking out of his skin, he repeatedly told his teammates “Win the game. Win the game.”
And there was no way his comrades were going to let him down.
Though Louisville was understandably rattled when play first resumed, they regained their rhythm to take a 35-32 halftime lead over the Blue Devils. But Duke rallied to start the second half, as a Mason Plumlee dunk tied the game at 42 apiece. From there, however, Louisville took complete control. A Gorgui Dieng basket capped a 17-2 run, as the Cardinals grabbed a 59-44 lead, and would then cruise to the finish line.
Dieng – who did not play in the teams’ first meeting on November 24th, a 76-71 Duke victory – finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for Louisville. Russ Smith scored a game-high 23, while Peyton Siva added 16. The Cardinals advance to their 10th Final Four in school history, and will seek its first National Championship since 1986. Louisville will meet Wichita State in the National Semifinals on April 6th. Rick Pitino, meantime, has earned the 7th Final Four berth of his illustrious head coaching career.
Duke saw their season crumble in the face of Louisville’s relentless full-court pressure defense, and allowed the Cardinals to score 50 points in the second half alone. The loss left head coach Mike Krzyzewski one victory shy of his 12th Final Four appearance, which would have tied UCLA’s John Wooden for the most all-time. Coach K remains tied with North Carolina’s Dean Smith with 11 apiece. Senior Mason Plumlee closed out his collegiate career with a team-high 17 points, with teammates Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly adding a combined 19.
The Cardinals are now off to Atlanta for the Final Four, which as it turns out, is the hometown of Kevin Ware.
Kevin Kugler and Pete Gillen called the action on Westwood One Sports.