Yesterday’s classic coaching battle between Louisville’s Pitino and Duke’s Coach-K took a sudden backseat to one of the most traumatic injuries to occur on live TV since the those suffered by Maurice Clarrett, Joe Theisman and Marcus Lattimore. Louisville’s Kevin Ware (Sophomore G) came out to challenge an outside shot directly in front of the Louisville bench and he came down on his right leg that snapped in a extreme compound fracture that was plainly evident to everyone watching. The obvious extent of the injury shocked everyone, and left most of the players and coaches visibly devastated. The graphic nature of the injury was quickly covered by a towel, and the CBS announcers were appropriately quiet as the event and its aftermath stopped the game. Pitino seemed inconsolable while Ware was being treated by EMT personnel on the sidelines, and Krzyzewski was clearly shaken. During the post-game press conference, Pitino was understandably grateful that his team advanced to the Final Four but he was clearly more concerned for Ware.
As for the game, Louisville found inspiration in its setback and put together a second half that took advantage of a seeminngly uninspired Duke. The Cardinals made their shots and played an aggressive defense and the game was over well before the clock wound down. In the final minutes there was no fouling to stop the clock and make people shoot free throws. Mason Plumlee was pulled from the game at about the 90-second mark and the other seniors were taken out early as well so that they could receive their due recognition from the crowd for their representation of the school over their college career.
Louisville moves on to Atlanta to play Wichita State, who is a six-seed surprise survivor at the dance. The Shockers will almost certainly be tamed by the determined Louisville squad who hardly need more motivation to win but is now playing to win for Kevin Ware who will be on hand to provide the emotion to ensure the win. Louisville entered the tournament as the top overall seed and as the only remaining one-seed should be expected to fulfill its top-seeded expectation. Historical symmetry: Louisville’s win would provide Pitino with his second national championship; he last cut down the nets in 1996 as coach of Louisville’s rival, Kentucky; Kentucky was last year’s champion under coach John Calipari, who Pitino defeated when Calipari lead Umass to the Final Four.
In the recap of the other weekend’s games (yes, there were three others), Michigan and Trey Burke soundly defeated Kansas in the Sweet 16, then shellacked Florida in the Elite 8 to capture the South Region. Michigan seems to be coming gelling at the right time, and will be favored over Syracuse to advance to the championship game on Monday. Syracuse beat Indiana in the Sweet 16, then limited Big East-rival Marquette to just 39 points to give their somewhat meager 55 points the victory. Wichita State pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend by defeating Ohio State to capture the West Region. Wichita State has the magic working for them, but let’s get real. They’re not going to give Louisville – with their own ramped up mojo – much of a game; Vegas concurs, where the lines have already come with the Cardinals favored by 10.5 in the national semifinal on Saturday night.
The power conferences were the trendy pick this year. But for Wichita St. crashing the party, it would’ve been an all Big 10, Big East Final Four, which would’ve cemented the dominance of these two conferences.
Sidenote: the Louisville Cardinals women’s basketball team defeated Brittany Griner and the Baylor Bears in a somewhat stunning upset. Griner is the perennial concensus best player in women’s college basketball and for her to fall out of the running for the national championship is as shocking as any major underachievement that comes out of men’s basketball.