Extreme lows, highs in Louisville’s 85-63 win over Duke in Elite 8
After Kevin Ware went through the initial shock of his injury, and what had just happened to what used to be his leg, the only thing he could think, and the only thing he could scream was—
"JUST WIN THE GAME… JUST WIN"
After breaking his leg nearly in half, Kevin Ware was devastated that he could not finish the game out with his teammates on the court. During the post-game conference, Louisville Forward Chane Behanan said he and Ware are like brothers. Based on the tears streaming down the faces of Ware’s teammates after the gruesome injury, the same could probably be said for most of them.
All college basketball teams are close, or at least should be if they want to be good. What makes the Cardinals a family though, is their current group of players and how long they’ve been playing together. In a time when freshmen dominate the college basketball scene, and teams turn over brand new rosters each season, it’s refreshing to see a team full of relative veterans making a deep tournament push.
Louisville’s three leading scorers, Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva, are all upperclassmen and Siva is even a senior. Last year all were instrumental in the Cardinals run to the title game, in which we saw Louisville come up just short against Kentucky. Louisville was a tough team before losing that game. Now with a chip on their shoulder and another year to play together, they are even tougher and closer.
Ware’s injury, and his teammates’ response to it, highlighted season long themes for Louisville—success and perseverance.
The Cardinals started the 2012-13 season superbly, winning 16 of it’s first 17 games. Their first loss came at the hands of Duke, the same team they would go on to face and defeat in the Elite Eight.
However, after a three game losing streak in late January, doubts started to emerge about Louisville’s ability to compete for a championship. Those concerns seemed pretty legitimate at the time. Sure, the 16-1 start was fantastic, but their only notable win in that span was against a Missouri team who was ranked 13th at the time, but at the moment isn’t even ranked in the top 30.
After righting the ship with three straight victories, Louisville was again defeated, this time in a five overtime marathon of a basketball game against Notre Dame, which lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes.
It was an emotionally and physically exhausting loss, devastating even. However, without the effort, determination and unity put forth by the Cardinals during that loss, and put forth in every single Cardinal practice, scrimmage and game, Louisville would not be a team full of brothers.
That effort and determination was needed in abundance in the moments after Ware’s injury, and in the 37 minutes that remained in the game after it. When Ware went down, the Cardinal’s lead Duke 21-20. The next time Louisville touched the ball was on an inbound three, which air-balled. Three minutes later, Duke had the lead 26-23.
Duke’s 6-2 run over those three minutes was punctuated by tentative play from Louisville, including three fouls and a turnover.
This was not Louisville basketball, not good enough basketball to beat Duke, not what Kevin Ware implored them to do, win. A Peyton Siva jumper, two Chane Behanan steals, and two Russ Smith free throw’s later, Louisville began to look like Louisville again.
The game continued to be a back and forth battle through halftime and into the 2nd half. With 16 minutes remaining in the game, it was tied at 42-42. Through 24 minutes of hard fought, physically aggressive basketball, the game looked like a heavyweight stalemate. Six minutes later, it was 59-44 Louisville.
Though ten minutes still remained in the Elite Eight match up, the game was all over. That six minute, 17-2 run by the Cardinals exemplified everything Kevin Ware and Louisville stand for as a team. They displayed gritty defense, holding Duke to 0-11 from the field, while also forcing several turnovers and fouls.
After Louisville regained their mental composure, they wiped the floor with the Blue Devils. On April 6th, Louisville will face off against Wichita State in the Final Four. Wichita State has had a miraculous journey of their own, as they have become just the fifth 9th seed or higher to make a Final Four.
Had Louisville not overcome such a terrible injury, America would have surely been rooting for Wichita State to pull off the upset. Though, after seeing the strength and selflessness Kevin Ware displayed in one what was probably the worst moment in his life, and after seeing his teammates will themselves to a dominating win, who could possibly root against these guys?
The love they share for each other, the willingness to win and their passion for basketball make Louisville a great team, and that is what teams are all about. I can’t see the future, but I also can’t see Louisville losing again this tournament.