For one night at least, the Louisville Cardinals are basketball royalty. Unfortunately, a gruesome injury overshadowed these victories.
Louisville’s men’s basketball team blew out Duke, 85-63, in the Midwest regional final on Sunday evening, sending the Cardinals to their second straight Final Four. A few hours later, Louisville’s women’s team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in women’s college basketball history, as the fifth seeded Cardinals took down the defending champs, Baylor, who were 34-1. Louisville’s win ended the college career of the most dominant player in basketball, 6’8″ Baylor center Britney Griner. The Cardinals play Tennessee on Tuesday for a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Last night should have been one of the happiest nights in Louisville history. But it’s bittersweet, because in the first half of the men’s game, Louisville’s Kevin Ware landed awkwardly after contesting a three-point attempt by Duke’s Tyler Thornton. That type of basketball play is made thousands of times a day, in practices and pickup games all over the country, without incident. But Ware’s right leg buckled, and broke in two places; the bone was protruding from the skin. The injury occurred in front of the Louisville bench; his teammates recoiled in horror. (A full video of the injury is here; warning, it’s graphic). The trainers immediately covered Ware’s legs with towels, to keep the injury out of sight. As Ware was being treated and eventually taken off in a stretcher, several Louisville players, and coach Rick Pitino, shed tears. ”The bone’s 6 inches out of his leg and all he’s yelling is, ‘Win the game, win the game,’” Pitino told CBS after the game. “I’ve not seen that in my life. … Pretty special young man.”
After a somber halftime, Louisville — the top overall seed in the tournament — honored Ware’s request, and pulled away from Duke. As the clock wound down, Louisville’s Chase Behanan celebrated while wearing Ware’s jersey. Ware will likely need a year, at least, to recover; he is from Atlanta, site of this year’s men’s Final Four.
The Cardinals will face ninth-seeded Wichita State, a somewhat Cinderella; the Shockers weren’t ranked coming into the season, and are making their first Final Four appearance since 1965. The Shockers are the first Missouri Valley Conference team to make the Final Four since Larry Bird led Indiana St. to the championship game back in 1979. But Wichita State started the season 15-1, and beat fellow mid-major darling VCU; college basketball had no one dominant team this season. Wichita St. can surely win it all. The Wichita St.-Louisville winner with face either Syracuse or Michigan in the April 8 national title game in Atlanta.
Normally, as soon as the last Elite Eight buzzer sounds, people start pumping themselves up about the Final Four matchups. But right now, it’s hard not to dwell on Ware’s freak injury. No one was at fault: no player barreled into Ware, and Ware certainly didn’t make a reckless play. It’s scary. If a Big East player can break his leg on a routine play, can’t a youth player do the same? Or middle-aged weekend warrior? Sometimes sports, like life, is just way too unfair.