On Sunday the number one seeded Louisville basketball Cardinals and the number two seeded Duke Blue Devils clashed at Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium for their Elite Eight matchup, one of the biggest Elite Eight matchups of all time. The Cards go on to the Final Four to face the Wichita State Shockers in Atlanta courtesy of a 85-63 victory.
When the two teams played earlier in the season at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Cards played without an injured Gorgui Dieng. Additionally, Louisville had Kevin Ware who was still finding his place on the team and Luke Hancock who couldn’t find the bottom of the net with both hands. Times have changed for both super subs.
Unfortunately for Ware, his season ended on one of the most gruesome bone breaks on live television since the famous Joe Theismann’s Monday Night Football injury in 1985. It triggered tears and prayers immediately. Coach Rick Pitino said that the broken bone came about 6 inches out of the skin and will take a year to recover from.
The highly partisan Indianapolis crowd let the Cardinals hear it right from the opening Chane Behanan dunk. In fact, Behanan scored Louisville’s first 6 points. His team was obviously not intimidated by the Blue Devil mystique.
The other issue that would come into play was the fact that the Cards could run 9 players without a loss of talent whereas Duke plays 6.
Louisville attacked the rim relentlessly which caused early foul trouble for Duke’s Ryan Kelly. And their star Seth Curry was shut down for the entire first half. In the meantime, the Cards kept coming. Based on the number of players, Louisville had fouls to give.
When Kelly got back into the game, on minute later point guard Peyton Siva went right at him on a shot in the lane and Kelly came out with his third foul. He sat for the rest of the first half.
Then the tragedy.
With 6:39 left on the clock, Ware had to run cross court to guard a three point shot from Tyler Thornton and landed so horrifically that you saw his right leg snap on live television. CBS Sports thankfully only replayed the shot twice in the interest good taste and respect.
The injury devastated the team. Game play stopped for nearly nine minutes while Ware was attended to and put on the gurney to be wheeled out of the arena for Indianapolis’s Methodist Hospital. How bad was the injury? Medical staff covered the break with towels in an effort to hide it from the television cameras and the fans in the arena.
From that kind of scene, it’s hard to realize that the show must go on so when Ware left it was game time again. Louisville took some time to channel their emotions back into the task at hand.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton
The offense got sloppy as well as the defense, but to a lesser degree. They settled down towards the end of the half as they went to the locker room with a 35-32 lead on a 10-4 run. Rick Pitino’s halftime speech to the team would decide how the rest of the game got played.
As the second half opened Seth Curry got himself into the game for Duke with quick threes, but the Cards came back as a unit just as Kevin Ware asked them to do from the floor during his injury treatment.
So Louisville kept coming. Peyton Siva took over the game with points and assists everywhere while Smith maintained the Russdiculous play that has been his hallmark through the entire tournament.
With Ware out, Tim Henderson was called upon to jump into the guard rotation and play more minutes. Not seen as a scoring threat, his knowledge of the Cardinal defense made him a valuable sub. He even nailed a triple near the end of the game.
As the game wore on, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s face became more and more a mask of concern, even though the whistles came coming in his team’s favor. The determined Louisville squad just kept coming. Smith finished with 23 points and Siva tallied 16. Dieng fouled out but made his presence known with double-double: 14 points and 11 rebounds.
And they’ll be coming to Atlanta for the Final Four and possibly a national championship.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton