Lying on the ground in excruciating pain, University of Louisville sophomore guard Kevin Ware told coach Rick Pitino he wanted to talk to his teammates.
Just moment’s prior, Ware appeared to land awkwardly after contesting a three-point shot by Duke Tyler Thornton. He suffered a compound fracture in his lower right leg just in front of the U of L bench with 6:33 left in the first half.
”It was just awful,” U of L sophomore Chane Behanan said.
The injury was reminiscent of the break to former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann and Pitino called it a “Michael Bush-type injury,” referring to the break the former U of L running back suffered against Kentucky.
”I’ve never seen anything like it,” Pitino said.
Pitino was the first to Ware, who went down just in front of the coach, and said he and Ware “both looked down at the same time, and lost it.”
Behanan collapsed and was lying in the middle of the court crying, Russ Smith ran to the opposite side of the floor and was sobbing. Peyton Siva just bent over, while players on the bench ran away and several were throwing up.
”No words can describe it,” Luke Hancock said. “No words at all.”
Ware was on the floor for several minutes before he was taken to Methodist Hospital – just a few minutes from the arena – and was in surgery on Saturday night.
But before he left, Ware had a message for his teammates.
”Just win the game,” Ware said to his teammates.
”There’s sometimes in life you really don’t have the words to handle a situation,” Pitino said. “All I did was bring them all together and said, ‘He told me five times, I’m OK just win the game.’ I got everybody together and when we had it covered up, I told them that he wanted to say something to them. He said it five more times, so he said it 10 times, ‘I’m OK, just win the game’.
“It had to come from him and it did.”
The Cardinals led 21-20 at that point and still held a 35-32 lead at the halftime when Pitino got them refocused in the locker room.
”We needed halftime,” Stephan Van Treese said. “Coach told us Kevin was going to be OK and then we talked about what we needed to do.”
And they did it – for Ware.
With Win4Ware and Prayer4Ware trending world wide on twitter, Louisville saw the game tied at 42 and then took over.
Despite foul troubles – Gorgui Dieng had four and Peyton Siva picked up his third with 17:21 left in the game – the Cardinals persevered.
Pitino talking about the injury and the scene his team had to battle, added “then we battled foul trouble and then we battled a great team and then we won for Kevin. He just carried us through with what he said.”
As the Cardinals dominated the game and the clock started to click, U of L just kept putting distance between themselves and the Blue Devils.
With about eight minutes left in the game, equipment manager Vinny Tatum sent one of his student managers to the locker room to get the extra No. 5 jersey of Ware’s. The team has two of each number in case the need it for each game.
As the clock ticked down, Pitino pulled his starters and Behanan put on the Ware jersey saying as he ran by after the game, “Kevin was here with us.”
”It was terrible to watch,” Pitino said. “I felt awful for the players, I felt awful for the fans, I just felt awful. But we had to gather ourselves.
”We couldn’t lose this game for him. We just couldn’t. He kept chanting, ‘Just win the game. Just win the game.’ And we did it for him. I’m real disappointed for Kevin but we’re getting him home to Atlanta.
Ware played his high school ball in Atlanta. The Cardinals will play Wichita State on Saturday night at 6:09 p.m.
”We’re going to win it for Kevin,” Wayne Blackshear said.