The injury is gruesome. My friend Mike, a former Waggener High School and Yale baller, made an interesting observation. “I think Kevin altered his landing mid air because of the raised floor and fear of falling off. Usually they collide with the press corps and scatter laptops.” Which is a legit theory, don’t you think?
The injury is debilitating, but not fatal. Hopefully, the physical loss will be more than offset by the courage Ware displayed while laying with a bone sticking out of his skin on the raised platform of hardwood at Lucas Oil.
“Just win the game,” he implored.
The Cardinals responded, pushing back the tears, reached deep inside for more heart, and did just that.
Won the game.
With extreme prejudice.
* * * * *
Injuries have played a role in both of the Cardinals’ national titles.
Three games into the ’80 championship season, linchpin Scooter McCray suffered an injury which kept him out for the rest of the campaign. U of L was not to be deterred. His then roly poly freshman brother Rodney took his place. And became the linchpin of Louisville’s first championship squad.
Early in the campaign that preceded Louisville’s second title in ’86, Milt Wagner broke his foot. He was out for the rest of that season, which ended with two losses in New York in the NIT’s last weekend, and 18 total.
It proved to be the proverbial blessing in disguise. Milt returned the following year, instead of having finished his eligibility. I needn’t remind Cardinal fans of those two radar FTs that sealed the deal against Duke in Dallas.
Note: I just corrected the first sentence of this section. I had typed the word “previous” before “national titles.”
Which syntax presupposed another crown this season. That, obviously, would have been premature.
But, as I hear my mother saying right now, “from your fingers to God’s ear.”
Ware’s injury certainly increases the uncertainty of U of L’s task. But it remains eminently doable.
* * * * *
I often mention my friend and fellow Cardinal acolyte David in these blogs. We’ve been watching games together since high school.
He’s a bright fellow, Professor Emeritus at the law school. Despite that intelligence, he often makes the most laughably absurd observations about hoops. Which makes him great literary fodder. Every writer deserves such a foil to play off of.
So I often give him shit in this space. But must now give him credit because it’s due.
During a Louisville timeout with 16:16 to play, Duke had knotted the score at 42. Seth Curry was off the schneid. Wayne Blackshear committed his second then third fouls in a matter of seconds. Peyton Siva committed his third, a classic stupid Siva reach in.
At the 15:50 media timeout, the score was the same 42-42.
David: “If Louisville wins, we’ll remember the next two minutes of the game.”
Like the Cards, David was on his game.
Luke Hancock blocked a shot. Chane Behanan grabbed the rebound. Russ Smith tallied a layup +1. Peyton Siva hit a jumper. Chane Behanan stole the ball from Ryan Kelly, then grabbed an offensive board, which resulted in a Siva layup.
Timeout Duke at 13:32. After a 7-0 Louisville run. 49-42.
Don Pardo, tell David what he wins for correctly predicting, “What is the turning point of the game?”
“Sure enough, Seedy, David wins the 12th edition of Take Home Jeopardy game. And, as a bonus, special mention in your blog tomorrow about the game.”
At the 8:49 mark, Luke Hancock drilled a three, completing the 20-4 run. Louisville 62, Duke 46.
Is there anything more fun than watching the Dookies dismantled in the NC2A?
No, there isn’t. Especially when it’s your team swinging the sledgehammer.
* * * * *
I love hearing Greg, Kenny and Charles break it down. (Ernie out to be there as ringmaster.)
Greg Anthony is normally pretty astute. At halftime, when Louisville had fought through tears and team turmoil for surprising 35-32 lead, the former UNLV star said, “If I was Duke, I’d be feeling pretty good right now. Only down three . . . “
And, I’m thinking just the opposite. Just a few moments ago, three Cardinals were sitting or prostrate on the floor in shock while their teammate was being tended to by EMS. Players and coaches were openly crying over the fate of their teammate.
Yet they’d maintained their considerable poise for 6:33 of clock time, to increase their advantage by a deuce.
I’m thinking that it might have been as gutty a segment of basketball ever played by a U of L team. I’m thinking the Cards are in as great a shape as they could have possibly hoped for.
* * * * *
Here’s one thing we always suspected, but now know for sure.
Gorgui Dieng’s absence in Atlantis was the difference in the earlier U of L/ Duke encounter. 14 points on 6/8 shooting and 11 rebounds. Ho hum. When Plumlee didn’t come out to check Gorgui, the Cardinal kept dropping in that sweet jumper of his.
His disappointing 2/8 FT shooting is excused. For this, the last time.
Despite his stupid fouls and his sometime overdribbling, Peyton Siva remains the centerpiece of this team. He had 16 points, 4 assists and no turnovers.
Louisville, as a team, had 10 steals, 9 blocks, and, against one of the nation’s most fundamentally sound defenses, only 8 turnovers.
Chane Behanan went for 8 and 8, and played STRONG. Far and away his best game in awhile.
Wayne Blackshear’s offense remains a mystery in its absence. But he played a mighty game on defense. He, along with Luke Hancock, checked Curry right out of the game.
Silent L, SVT, they all came up huge on the big stage.
Oh yes, that Smith kid, the region’s MOP. 23 points. 2 steals. Only 1 turnover.
* * * * *
Since the game was played on Easter, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Christian Academy grad Tim Henderson, who. all of a sudden, becomes an integral part of the Cards’ rotation.
He played 7 steady minutes.
He dotted the exclamation point three with :17 on the clock, to push the final victory margin to — oh, this is so sweet to type — 22 points.
Which contribution on Easter by a CAL grad wasn’t the biggest of the day by a Cardinal.
(Is that a clever transition to talk about the women’s stupendous upset or what?)
CAL grad Antonita Slaughter was 7/9 from beyond the arc in U of L’s upset of #1 Baylor.
Okay, I’m going to say, and I pray it doesn’t offend. Thank you, Jesus.
* * * * *
I must admit there is something vexing about the W by Jeff Walz’s steely squad. And it goes back to my friend David.
One thing he says to the point where we want to stuff a bar of soap in his mouth is this: You look good when you make shots.
So, David, enjoy this day, you’re two for two.
Slaughter wasn’t the only radar-eyed Cardinal sniper from downtown. Louisville was 16/25 from beyond the arc.
Yet, yet, yet, as champs do, and as we knew they would, the Bears came back. But the distaff Cardinals showed as much mettle as their male counterparts.
How great that, when the lead had totally dissipated with seconds to go, hobbled Monique Reid just went down court and won it, besting the best player in the game.
* * * * *
A couple of comments about the losing coaches, then I’m outta here.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey displayed as little grace in defeat as I can recall. After avoiding a technical for behavior that would have been embarrassing to a Little League father, she had the audacity to blame the loss on the officials.
Tsk, tsk. Mulkey’s post game demeanor was the paradigm of sore loser, totally devoid of class.
The flip side, I must admit, was the post game reaction of Mike Krzyzewski.
We love to hate him, don’t we? His looks. The way he works the refs. Most of all, his considerable, long term, ongoing success at a tony private school.
But the guy is always as gracious in defeat as he is in victory.
“We want to congratulate Louisville on winning this regional championship. They played a great game. They played so hard. We tried to match them, and we couldn’t match them. And they wear you down.
“Their two guards just set an amazing pace, Siva. I don’t know if he – didn’t look like he was even sweating today. He just was so smooth. And then Smith is terrific.
“We feel so bad about youngster Ware. I don’t know the extent of his injury, but Godspeed to him. I hope he’s going to be okay. But congratulations to them.”
“I don’t watch all of college basketball, but it’s the best team we’ve played. And they’re obviously better than we played in the Bahamas.
“What they do, and Rick’s done an amazing job with them, because they have depth and they keep coming at you, but they make you have multiple decision-makers. You have to have more than one guy making a decision out on the court.
“And in switching their defenses and their quickness and their athleticism, you have to – it’s tough to run plays. You have to make plays against them. And we were doing that when we didn’t turn the ball over in the first half.
“The thing with Seth, which we tried to change and did at the start of the second half, he was bringing the ball up too much. We needed he and Mason to be finishers for us, and that’s how we started the second half. We got that.
“And then they played well, and then we missed some shots, and then they just spurted. And then the game changed. I thought we had a chance there, and then boom. And that’s what they do to teams. They can boom you. They – whatever. My vocabulary isn’t very good, but you I hope you understand what I mean. It’s a positive thing for them. Not for us. And Rick’s done a masterful job with this team. He’s as good as they get, and this team’s as good as we’ve seen.”
Next: Wichita State.
– Seedy K