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.’’
Pitino wiped away tears as Ware, whom Smith described as the Cardinals’ ‘‘little brother’’ was wheeled off the court. Surgeons reset his leg and inserted a rod in his right tibia during a 2-hour operation at Methodist Hospital. Ware is expected to remain in Indianapolis until at least Tuesday, and Pitino said he, his son Richard and the Cardinals’ equipment manager planned to visit the player later Sunday night and again Monday morning.
‘‘He'll come back,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘We'll get Kevin back as good as new.’’
But when play resumed, it was clear the Cardinals’ minds were elsewhere. They missed four of their next five shots along with two free throws, and were uncharacteristically sloppy. But they regrouped after a timeout, with Smith’s finger roll sparking a 12-6 run to finish the half that gave them a 35-32 lead.
Smith picked up where he left off at the start of the second half, making all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt to give Louisville a 38-32 lead, its largest of the game to that point.
But just as he did against Michigan State, Curry got hot after halftime, making two 3s in the first three minutes. A Plumlee dunk tied the game at 42.
That, however, was all Louisville needed.
Clawing for every rebound, diving on the floor for loose balls and cranking the intensity up even higher on their ferocious defense, the Cardinals were not going to lose.
And everyone, Duke included, knew it.
This was only the second time the Blue Devils have reached the regional finals and failed to make it to the Final Four. The only other time? In 1998, when the Blue Devils lost to eventual national champion Kentucky.
‘‘We got beat by a better team,’’ Krzyzewski said.
Smith made a layup. Siva had a nice jumper at the top of the key, and then followed with a layup. Just like that, Louisville was off. Siva had seven points during the run, which was only halted by a timeout. But Dieng kept it rolling with a jumper and a tip-in. After Plumlee made a pair of free throws, Hancock made a 3 and the roof of the Lucas Oil Stadium nearly blew off.
‘‘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.
‘‘Everybody on the team just wanted to step up for him. For us to show that focus and that determination, we just tried to do it for him.’’