Indianapolis, Ind. March 31, 2013 – Coach Rick Pitino was trying to relish the 85-63 win over the Duke Blue Devils, but it was clear that the possible career-ending injury suffered by guard Kevin Ware was foremost in his mind.
With 6:33 remaining in the first half, and the Cardinals ahead 38-32, Ware had jumped up to contest a three pointer by Tyler Thornton, and came down awkwardly on his right leg. That it was a serious injury was immediately obvious, with Ware on the floor and most of the Cardinal players immediately kneeling down.
The tibia of Ware’s right leg was protruding through the skin some 6-1/2 inches, and the Lucas Oil Stadium fell eerily quiet as trainers and coaches rushed around, and Ware’s teammates hurried to his side. As Coach Pitino said, “Basically the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots…Remember the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he’s yelling is, ‘Win the game. Win the game!’”
The tibia is the fourth longest bone in the body, three behind the femur, and is a component of the ankle and knee. A compound fracture is serious, to say the least.
After a nine-minute delay to take care of getting Ware on a stretcher and on to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, both teams returned to the fray, and it took a few minutes to get everyone back in the competitive spirit.
Scoring “for Kevin”
From that point on, Louisville seemed determined to win the game, and while Duke played its normal robust game, there was no holding back the Cardinals. Every score was made “for Kevin.
Duke went some five minutes without a score, and foul shots by Cardinal Russ Smith put the Cardinals ahead 38-32. With Louisville shooting 50% and Duke managing only 36%, the Cardinals went in the dressing room with a 57-44 lead. Duke hung in there thanks to Mason Plumlee, a 6’10” forward from Warsaw, Indiana and guard Quinn Cook, a guard from Bowie, Maryland.
Louisville takes 13 point lead
The second half was a blistering one for Louisville, who saw their shooting average increase to 61% while Duke’s dropped to 24%. At one time, the Blue Devils had missed ten shots in a row, and Louisville had a thirteen-point lead.
Led by their two outstanding guards, Russ Smith and Peyton Siva as well as forward Gorgui Dieng, Louisville was relentless in its shooting and scoring, and the game was in question no more. The Cardinals had simply commanded the boards, as one commentator said, and Duke had to see their hopes for the Final Four go down the drain.
Duke saw Plumlee with 17 points, Quinn Cook and Seth Curry both had 12.
For the Cardinals, Peyton Siva had 16 points, Russ Smith 23, Luke Hancock 10 and Dieng 14. Before his injury, Kevin Ware had already scored five points.
It had been twenty-one years and three days after the Duke Blue Devils had beaten University of Kentucky, then headed by Coach Rick Pitino, in Philadelphia, in 1992, in the days of Christian Laettner. Pitino and Coach Mike Krzyzewski had only met once since that time other than an early season game this year, with Duke winning 76-71. At that time, center Gorgui Dieng had broken his wrist the night before and was riding the bench, so the Cardinals were operating at a disadvantage.
Their only other NCAA tournament meeting was in 1986 when the Cardinals beat the Blue Devils for the championship.
Cards are Atlanta-bound.
After the game, Pitino - still with a less than happy face and tears in his eyes - said that when the teammates gathered around Ware, he looked at the group and said “go win this game – I’ll see you in Atlanta.” Ware had been talking about wanting to get back to Atlanta, and the team is determined to make that happen for him.
There has been no report from the orthopedic surgeons about Ware’s injury, but would be reasonable to expect an extended healing and rehabilitation period, if it is determined he will be able to play again.
The Cardinals will play Wichita State in Atlanta on Saturday at 6:00 p.m., and we are betting Kevin Ware will be watching.