With the bone in his broken right leg sticking through his skin–a sight that moved his teammates, fans and coach Rick Pitino to tears, Louisville’s Kevin Ware called over his devastated teammates and delivered a message while laying on his back on the court in Sunday’s battle for a Final Four berth.
“Just go win the game,” Ware is said to have instructed his teammates as a medical crew worked on his broken leg. Just go win the game.”
With his words spurring them, the Cardinals wiped their tears and then wiped the floor with the Duke Blue Devils, exploding on a 13-2 run midway through the second half that rendered the ACC powerhouse feeble. Louisville went on to take an 85-63 conquest to make its second straight appearance in the Final Four.
The mercurial guard tandem of Peyton Siva (16 points) and Russ Smith (23) devastated the Blue Devils with, speed, tenacity and determination, and the Cardinals’ depth and unrelenting defense finished them off. Louisville will face NCAA Tournament surprise Wichita State in the first game of the Final Four at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Michigan, which pummeled Florida by 20 points Sunday, will face Syracuse in the other tourney semifinal.
They will play in Atlanta, the home of Ware, who attended Rockdale County High near the city. He landed awkwardly while contesting a jump shot in front of the Louisville bench with 6:33 left in the first half and his leg snapped, horrifying those who witnessed it. Pitino said it was gruesome he almost threw up. Players lay on the floor grief-stricken, crying. Fans wept. The arena fell silent.
“Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots,” Pitino said. “Remember the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he’s yelling is ‘Win the game, win the game.’ I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Added Siva, “I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he got strength to do it, but he told us to go out there and win.”
“I don’t think we could have gathered ourselves — I know I couldn’t have — if Kevin didn’t say over and over again, ‘Just go win the game,” Pitino said. “I don’t think we could have gone in the locker room with a loss after seeing that. We had to gather ourselves. We couldn’t lose this game for him.”
Chane Behanan, Ware’s closest friend on the team, wore the guard’s No. 5 jersey on the bench in the final moments as he and the huge Cardinals contingent chanted, “Kevin Ware! Kevin Ware!””
“We talked about it every timeout, ‘Get Kevin home,” Pitino said.
Ware tweeted a photo of himself in a Texas hospital bed. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m good, I’ll have my surgery tonight,’” Behanan said. “‘Go win it for me.’”
Ware was recovering Sunday night following successful surgery. School officials said the sophomore had the bone reset and a rod inserted into his right tibia.
“I don’t think we could have gone in that locker room with a loss,” Pitino said, “after seeing that.”
“I think that would have hurt him more than the actual injury,” Siva added.