INDIANAPOLIS | As Kevin Ware’s leg was being immobilized on the sideline following a horrific injury, the Louisville sophomore had a message for his teammates: “Win the game.”
The Cardinals did just that, utilizing a 20-4 run in the second half to take control and knock off Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional final at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The win sends Louisville to its second consecutive Final Four, the 10th in program history.
“I don’t think we could have gathered ourselves, I know I couldn’t have, if Kevin didn’t over and over keep saying ’just win the game,’” Pitino said. “We just couldn’t lose this game for him. We just couldn’t.”
Ware landed awkwardly on his right leg late in the first half after attempting to block a 3-point attempt from Duke’s Tyler Thornton. Ware’s shin bone broke through the skin and Louisville players were noticeably affected on the court. Russ Smith and Chane Behanan broke into tears and Pitino later wiped away tears as Ware was carried off the court.
“It was really hard to pull myself together,” Smith said. “I didn’t ever think in a million years I would see something like that. I was completely devastated.”
The Cardinals (33-5) regrouped on the sideline and later in the locker room before taking control of the game in the second half. Smith scored three of his game-high 23 points to start the 20-4 run and Peyton Siva added two assists and six of his 16 points during the run as Louisville outscored Duke 50-31 after halftime.
“We just came together and Kevin Ware really was the reason why we pulled this game out,” Siva said. “I don’t know how he did it; don’t know how he got the strength to do it, but he told us to go out there and win. Everybody on the team just wanted to step up for him.”
The Blue Devils (30-6) beat Louisville earlier this season, but the Cardinals were without Gorgui Dieng in the previous meeting. The junior big man had 14 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday and scored eight points during Louisville’s second-half run.
“It’s the best team that we’ve played and they’re obviously better than when we played them in the Bahamas,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Rick’s (Pitino) done a masterful job with this team. He’s as good as they get and this team’s as good as we’ve seen.”