On Sunday evening, one final spot in the Final Four was fought over by the two highest seeds remaining in the tournament led by two of college basketball’s most successful coaches. Louisville-Duke was hyped as the tournament’s top match up, and the winner would emerge out of the loaded Midwest bracket to join Syracuse, Wichita State, and Michigan in the Final Four.
The much heralded contest lived up to the hype for much of the game as the first half and early second saw an intense contest resulted in a 85-63 victory for the Louisville. The Cardinals ran away with the game in the second half.
Throughout the first half, the two squads battled back and forth and Seth Curry, coming off a monster performance in the Sweet 16 for the Blue Devils, was a non-factor, entering the locker room without scoring a point. The Cardinals closed the half with a 35-32 lead over the Blue Devils
Perhaps the biggest event of the half, however, came at the 6:33 mark when Sophomore guard Kevin Ware suffered a devastating injury, seemingly shattering his leg after coming down after a failed shot blocking attempt. Players from both teams turned their heads in horror and Ware’s teammates huddled in prayer as tears streamed down a few of their faces.
Ware, who scored 3 points on the evening, was taken to the hospital on a stretcher. The break was easily one of the most devastating basketball injuries caught on television and former Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman, who suffered one of sports’ most famous breaks when Lawrence Taylor caught him from the blindside and broke his leg, tweeted his sympathies.
After the game, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said they dedicated their performance to Ware and that his injury was the same as the one suffered by former Louisville running back Michael Bush who has recovered to have a successful NFL career.
The game remained a tight, back and forth affair throughout the remainder of the half, and the contest remained even early in the second half.
However, the athleticism of Louisville proved too much for the Blue Devils, and Peyton Siva and the Cardinals were dominant for much of the half. Siva finished with 16 points, but it was the team’s star, Russ Smith, who led the way by scoring 23 points for the Cardinals as Louisville steadily extended their lead.
Duke, who many had thought would fall to Michigan State in the Elite Eight, was led by Senior big man Mason Plumlee who scored 17 points. Plumlee was part of a trifecta of Duke seniors, also including Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, that spent their entire career in the AP top 10. Curry and Kelly scored 12 and 7 point respectively.
Louisville, the tournament’s #1 overall seed, only enhanced their standing as the consensus favorite today. However, they will face a Wichita State team that has consistently proved doubters wrong. On the other side of the field, Michigan-Syracuse features a compelling and seemingly even contest.