INDIANAPOLIS -- Crying and shaken by the sight of Kevin Ware writhing on the court, his right leg broken in two places, Rick Pitino and his Louisville players had no idea how they were going to pull it together with a half left to play and a Final Four berth on the line.
Ware showed them the way.
"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. We just couldn't."
With Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng leading the way, the Cardinals finally shook off their grief early in the second half, erupting for a 20-4 run that Duke was powerless to answer. The 85-63 victory clinched a second straight trip to the Final Four for the top-seeded Cardinals (33-5), who are determined to win it all for Ware. They will play Wichita State in the national semifinals Saturday.
With 6:33 left in the first half, Ware, who has played a key role in Louisville's 14-game winning streak, jumped to try to block Tyler Thornton's three-point shot. When he landed, his right leg snapped midway between his ankle and knee, the bone skewing almost at a right angle. Ware dropped to the floor in front of the bench and his teammates turned away in horror.
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Thornton grimaced, putting his hand to his mouth as he turned around. Louisville's Wayne Blackshear fell to the floor and Chane Behanan, kneeling, looked as if he were going to be sick on the court. Luke Hancock patted Ware's chest as doctors worked on the sophomore and Smith walked away, pulling his jersey over his eyes. The arena was silent, and fans wept and bowed their heads.
Pitino went to help Ware up and then saw the leg. "I literally almost threw up," Pitino said, his voice catching. "Then I just wanted to get a towel to get it over that. But all the players came over and saw it."
"The bone was literally out. I saw white, it was literally out," said Behanan, who collapsed at the sight. "I dropped to the ground. I've never seen anything like that. I don't remember the last time I cried."
As the final seconds ticked down, Behanan put on Ware's No. 5 jersey and stood at the end of the Louisville bench, screaming. Cardinals fans chanted "Kevin Ware! Kevin Ware!"
Pitino had tears in his eyes as he tried to console his players after the injury. Dieng draped an arm around the shoulders of Smith, who repeatedly wiped at his eyes and shook his head. The Cardinals gathered at midcourt to try to regroup before Pitino called them over to the sideline, saying Ware wanted to talk to them before he left.
"We won this for him," Pitino said. "We were all choked up with emotion for him. We'll get him back to normal. We've got great doctors, great trainers.''
Pitino added, "Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots. Remember, the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he's yelling is 'Win the game! Win the game!' I've not seen that in my life . . . Pretty special young man."
Surgeons reset his leg and inserted a rod in his right tibia during a two-hour operation at Methodist Hospital last night. Ware is expected to remain in Indianapolis until at least tomorrow, and Pitino said he, his son Richard -- who recruited Ware -- and the equipment manager planned to visit him later last night and again this morning.
Ware, who is from the Bronx, played his high school ball in Georgia -- and the Final Four is in Atlanta, just adding to the emotion for the Cardinals. "We talked about it every timeout: 'Get Kevin home,' '' Pitino said.
Dr. Reed Estes, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and team physician for the UAB football team, said Ware's injury "looks like a pretty bad break to both his tibia and fibula," the two long bones in the lower leg. He said surgery to stabilize the bones usually is successful and that Ware should be fine to play next season.
Ware's right leg bent in such an awkward and frightening angle that CBS stopped showing replays shortly after he suffered the injury. News of the injury dominated social media. Joe Theismann, whose NFL career ended with a horrific broken leg, said on Twitter, "Watching Duke/ Louisville my heart goes out to Kevin Ware."
Smith scored 23 points, Siva added 16 and Dieng had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks for Louisville.
Mason Plumlee had 17 points -- including a dunk that tied it at 42 before Louisville went on its 20-4 run -- and 12 rebounds for Duke (30-6). Seth Curry added 12, all in the second half.
"I thought we had a chance there, and then, boom," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "That's what they do to teams. They can boom you.
"It's the best team we've played, and they're obviously better than we played in the Bahamas," said Krzyzewski, referring to Duke's 76-71 win over the Cardinals in November. "We got beat by a better team, and we beat a lot of really good teams."