When the Louisville men’s basketball team faces Wichita State Saturday, it will be without Kevin Ware on the court—but the sophomore who broke his leg in two places Sunday hopes to be courtside in Atlanta to cheer on his teammates.
“We still have a job to get done,” Ware said. “We still have one more goal.”
Ware underwent two-hours of surgery late Sunday night during which a steel rod was inserted into his leg. On Monday, he was out of bed, up on crutches, and had a message for the fans who saw his gruesome injury on national television: He’s going to be all right.
“Hopefully I’ll be back in time to watch practice,” Ware told ESPN.com by phone. “It hurts but I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”
The 6-foot-2-inch guard broke his tibia while landing after trying to defend a shot during the first half of Sunday’s Elite Eight game in Indianapolis against Duke. Ware collapsed to the ground in agony near the Louisville bench.
“It was very difficult to look at and watch,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “But he’s a brave young man, because all he kept saying was, ‘Win the game.’”
The Louisville trainers rushed out and covered the injury—a broken bone was protruding from underneath Ware’s skin— and after several minutes, medical personnel slid a board underneath him and carried him off the court. Ware was immediately taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
“I jumped and my leg felt kind of funny,” Ware told ESPN. “When Coach P tried to help me up, he gave me a funny kind of look. I’m looking at him and then I look down and I see my bone sticking out. It wasn’t a hurt feeling. I just went into shock. In the moment, you don’t know what’s wrong with you. You’re just looking, thinking, ‘How did this happen?’ I never watched the replay. I never want to.”
Several of Ware’s teammates collapsed onto the court in tears after seeing the gruesome injury. Others headed over to the bench with their faces covered.
“Seeing Chane [Behanan] cry as hard as he ever cried, and Russ [Smith], Coach, all of them, I just looked at Coach P and said, ‘You gotta pull yourself together. Tell the guys to come over here,’” Ware said. “They came over and they were still emotional but I meant it. I told them, ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.’ I just had to block the pain out and put my situation on hold. I never back down for a challenge and to me, that’s what this is. Just another challenge. I’ll get through it. I wanted them to know that.”
Louisville, the only No. 1 seed remaining in the tournament, went on to defeat Duke 85-63, sending the Cardinals to a Final Four semifinal matchup against the Wichita State Shockers Saturday and a shot at the NCAA title game on Monday.
Wichita State made it to the Final Four for the first time since 1965 by upsetting heavily favored Ohio State 70-66 Saturday. Coming off an upset win against top-ranked Gonzaga the previous week, the Shockers followed Coach Gregg Marshall’s call to “play angry.” Malcolm Armstead scored 14 points while Fred Van Vleet added 12.
In the other games this past weekend, Syracuse advanced to the Final Four by defeating Marquette 55-39 Saturday. The Orange’s 2-3 zone defense suffocated the Golden Eagles as senior forward James Southerland put up 16 points.
“We showed that defense wins games.” senior guard Brandon Triche said.
On Sunday, Michigan crushed Florida, 79-59, to reach the Final Four for the first time in 20 years. Nik Stauskas scored 22 points—hitting all six three-point attempts, and Trey Burke added 15.
Louisville squares off against Wichita State at 6:05 p.m. EDT in Saturday’s first national semifinal, with Michigan and Syracuse tipping off the second game at approximately 8:49 p.m.