The University of Louisville is headed to the Final Four of the national men’s college basketball tournament for the second straight year after a win that was fueled by a loss.
Louisville pulled away from Duke University for an 85-63 victory in the Midwest regional final in Indianapolis yesterday to become the lone No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four. The Cardinals outscored the Blue Devils 50-31 in the second half after losing Kevin Ware, a reserve guard, to a double leg fracture that left coach Rick Pitino and other players in tears.
“We won this for him,” Pitino said of Ware in a televised interview. “We’re all choked up with emotion for him. It was an unbelievable performance. So proud of the guys.”
Louisville joined Wichita State, Syracuse University and the University of Michigan in the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Michigan routed the University of Florida 79-59 in yesterday’s South regional final to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1992 and 1993, when it lost consecutive championship games with the “Fab Five” class of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.
Louisville (33-5), which was the top overall seed in the 68-team tournament, will face Wichita State (30-8) on April 6 in Atlanta for a spot in the national title game, which is played two days later at the Georgia Dome. Michigan (30-7) will play Syracuse (30-9) in the other national semifinal.
Wichita State was the ninth seed in the West regional, while Michigan was seeded fourth in the South and Syracuse was fourth in the East. This is the fourth straight year that the Final Four will feature one No. 1 seed or fewer.
Louisville is now a 10-13 favorite to win its third national title, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. Michigan is the second choice at 3-1 odds, followed by Syracuse at 4-1 and Wichita State at 12-1.
Louisville closed its regional final against Duke with a 43-21 scoring run to break a 42-42 tie in the opening minutes of the second half. The surge came after the game was delayed nine minutes by the injury to Ware, whose right leg was broken in two places when he landed while trying to block a shot with 6:33 left in the first half.
“All he kept saying -- and remember the bone is six inches out of his leg -- and all he’s yelling is, ‘Win the game, win the game,’” Pitino said. “I’ve not seen that in my life. We’re all distraught and all he’s saying is win the game while the bone is out of his leg. Pretty special young man.”
Russ Smith scored 23 points to lead Louisville, while Peyton Siva had 16 points and Gorgui Dieng added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“When Kevin went down, it was devastating for all of us,” Siva said. “We just came together and Kevin Ware really was the reason why we pulled this game out.”
Pitino will return to the Final Four for the seventh time in his coaching career, tying him for fourth all-time, five behind John Wooden’s record. The Cardinals, who won their last NCAA title in 1986, lost to eventual champion Kentucky in last season’s national semifinals.
Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead Duke, which was held to 36.5 percent shooting. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski lost for the second time in 13 appearances in the final eight of the NCAA tournament, missing the chance to tie Wooden’s record for Final Four appearances.
Michigan raced to a 13-0 lead in Arlington, Texas, pushed its advantage to 24 points in the first half and never let Florida get within 11 points the rest of the way. Nik Stauskas had 22 points to lead the Wolverines, who were up by as many as 25 points with just over one minute left.
Michigan’s rout came two days after the Wolverines upset South region No. 1 seed Kansas 87-85 in overtime after erasing a 14-point deficit with less than seven minutes left. Michigan carried that momentum into today’s game, hitting seven of their first nine shots while opening a 20-4 lead.
Florida, which trailed 41-17 with just over four minutes left in the first half, used an 18-6 scoring run to pull within 47-36 less than three minutes into the second half. Michigan responded with a 3-pointer from Stauskas, who hit all six of his 3-point attempts and missed only one of his eight shots.
Trey Burke added 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Wolverines.
Michigan, which won its only national title in 1989, in January was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 1992 before losing six of its next 12 games.
“We went through a lot of adversity this year,” Burke said in a televised interview. “A lot of guys said we were young and couldn’t get here, but we’re here now and we still have unfinished business.”
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