INDIANAPOLIS — It took awhile, but Louisville’s players eventually recovered after witnessing a horrific injury to one of their teammates.
Reserve guard Kevin Ware broke his lower right leg in a gruesome-looking injury in the first half, but the Cardinals rallied to defeat second-seeded Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional final Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium and advance to the Final Four.
Ware jumped out to contest a 3-pointer with 6:33 left in the first half and snapped the leg when he landed. He was taken off the court on a stretcher and a Louisville spokesman said he was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Teammates were shaken, and the injury led to a lengthy stoppage in play.
“When he landed, I heard it,” Louisville guard Russ Smith said. “I’d heard it, and then I seen what happened come out (the bone) and I immediately just, just like, fell.
“And I almost didn’t feel nothing, and it was — it was really hard to pull myself together because I didn’t ever think in a million years I would see something like that.”
One person helped them pull themselves together — Ware.
“I don’t think any of us, with what we had to witness, could overcome it if it wasn’t for Kevin Ware 12 times saying to the guys, ‘I’ll be fine. Win the game,’” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Those words couldn’t have resonated more.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Louisville’s Peyton Siva said. “I don’t know how he got the strength to do it, but he told us to go out there and win. These guys really came to play.”
Louisville’s star guards came up big after the injury to their teammate. Smith scored 23 points and Siva had 16 points and four assists for the Cardinals (33-5). Smith was named the most outstanding player of the regional.
“Their two guards set an amazing pace,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Siva — he didn’t look like he was even sweating today. He was just so smooth. And then Smith is terrific.”
Louisville will play Wichita State in the national semifinals next Saturday. It will be Pitino’s seventh trip to the Final Four.
Mason Plumlee led the Blue Devils (30-6) with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Duke’s Seth Curry, who scored 29 points in the regional semifinal against Michigan State on Friday and had averaged 24 points in the tournament, was scoreless in the first half and finished with 12 points on 3-for-9 shooting.
Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon, who entered the game averaging 11.8 points per contest, didn’t score until 4:33 remained. He fouled out with three points. The Blue Devils’ three starting guards — Curry, Sulaimon and Quinn Cook — shot a combined 7-for-30 from the field.
Duke defeated Louisville 76-71 on Nov. 24 in the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas, but Louisville center Gorgui Dieng was injured and didn’t play in that game. In this game, Dieng finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
“It’s the best team we’ve played,” Krzyzewski said, “and they’re obviously better than we played in the Bahamas.”
Smith opened the second half by getting fouled on a 3-pointer. He made all three free throws to give Louisville a six-point cushion. But Curry came right back with a 3-pointer for his first points of the game.
Curry hit another three to cut Louisville’s lead to 42-40, then Plumlee dunked on Duke’s next possession to tie the score with 16:16 to go.
Siva hit a pullup jumper, then scored on a driving layup to give Louisville a 49-42 lead with 13:32 remaining.
Siva scored on a transition basket to push Louisville’s lead to 53-44, then Dieng hit a jumper to give Louisville its first double-digit lead. Dieng hit another jumper to make it 57-44, Luke Hancock made a 3-pointer to bump Louisville’s lead to 16 and the Cardinals coasted from there.
“I thought we had a chance there, and then, boom,” Krzyzewski said. “And that’s what they do to teams. They boom you.”
Duke trailed 33-32 in the closing seconds of the first half and had a chance to take the lead into the break. Instead, Curry’s shot was blocked and Smith was fouled at the other end on a fast-break layup attempt with 2.3 seconds left in the half. Smith made both free throws to give the Cardinals a 35-32 lead at the break.
Smith scored 12 points in the first half for Louisville. Plumlee had nine points and six rebounds for Duke before intermission. Ryan Kelly scored seven points in the first half for the Blue Devils, but he played just eight minutes because he committed three fouls.
Curry went scoreless in the first half on 0-for-3 shooting and didn’t even get a shot off for the first 8 1/2 minutes.
Louisville dominated the second half.
The Cardinals have a little extra incentive against Wichita State after Ware’s injury.
“We want to do this for him,” Siva said. “We know how much it means for him to be out there, and how much he wants to be out there.”
James Southerland scored 16 points and C.J. Fair added 13 as the Orange advanced to the Final Four for the first time in 10 years by downing the Golden Eagles in the East Regional final at Washington D.C.
Michael Carter-Williams added 12 points, 11 rebounds and five assists and fourth-seeded Syracuse (30-9) limited Marquette to a season-worst 22.6 percent from the field. The Orange will meet Michigan Saturday in the Final Four.
Vander Blue and Davante Gardner scored 14 points apiece for the third-seeded Golden Eagles (26-9), who went 3-for-25 from 3-point range and committed 13 turnovers while posting a season-low scoring output.
Malcolm Armstead had 14 points and seven rebounds as the Shockers held off a late charge from the Buckeyes in the West Regional final in Los Angeles to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1965.
Cleanthony Early and Fred VanVleet each scored 12 points for Wichita State (30-8), which notched its first 30-win season. Tekele Cotton chipped in 10 points for the Shockers, who will meet Louisville in Atlanta Saturday in their second Final Four appearance in school history.
Deshaun Thomas scored 21 points for Ohio State (29-8), which failed in its bid to make the national semifinals for the second straight season. LaQuinton Ross added 19, including 15 in the second half.
Ohio State missed its first seven shots, but rebounded to knot it at 13 by hitting five of its next eight attempts. However, Wichita State held Ohio State to 3-of-18 shooting over the final 11:05 of the first half and used a 22-9 run to close the half for a 13-point advantage.
The Shockers continued to build their cushion in the second and stretched the margin to 20 three times — the last coming with 11:02 remaining — before the Buckeyes rallied to within three points behind a 28-11 surge over the next 8:14. But Cotton’s 3-pointer with 2:21 left doubled the lead to 65-59 and VanVleet’s jumper with a minute to go allowed Wichita State to close it out.