INDIANAPOLIS — Crying and shaken by the sight of Kevin Ware writhing on the court, his right leg splintered, Rick Pitino and his Louisville players had no idea how they would pull it together with a half still left and a Final Four berth on the line.
Ware showed 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. "…We couldn't lose this game for him.
"We just couldn't."
With Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng leading, the Cardinals shook off their shock early in the second half, erupting for a 13-2 run. The 85-63 victory clinched a second straight Final Four for the top-seeded Cardinals.
Ware is a New York native who moved to Atlanta — site of the Final Four — for high school. "We talked about it every timeout, 'Get Kevin home,' " Pitino said.
The Cardinals (33-5) play Wichita State in the national semifinals on Saturday.
Smith had 23 points and was named most outstanding player for the Midwest Region. Siva added 16; Dieng had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Duke. But the Blue Devils (30-6) couldn't overcome a poor start by Seth Curry, who had all 12 of his points 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."
With 6:33 left in the first half, Ware, who has played a key role in Louisville's 14-game winning streak, jumped trying to block Tyler Thornton's 3-point shot. When Ware landed, his right leg snapped midway between his ankle and knee, the bone skewing almost at a right angle. Ware dropped right in front of the Louisville bench and, almost in unison, teammates turned away in horror.
Pitino went to help Ware up then saw the leg, which broke in two places.
"I literally almost threw up," Pitino said, his voice catching.
"It was really hard for me to pull myself together," Smith said.
Ware, a sophomore guard, was taken to Methodist Hospital where he had surgery. Louisville trainer Fred Hina said Ware needed surgery immediately because of the risk for infection with an open fracture.
But, Siva said, "He told us countless times: 'Just go win this game for me. Just go win this game.' "
Postgame, Pitino cited precedent as ground for optimism for Ware, saying his player's injury was similar to one sustained by former Louisville running back Michael Bush, who has gone on to a productive NFL career.