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Louisville beats Duke 85-63 to reach Final Four

Monday - 4/1/2013, 4:18pm  ET

Louisville players celebrate following their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

NANCY ARMOUR
AP National Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Writhing on the ground, his leg splintered, Kevin Ware had only one thing to say to his heartsick Louisville teammates.

"Just go win the game."

The Cardinals did, exploding for a 13-2 run early in the second half that sealed their 85-63 victory over Duke. Now they're headed for Atlanta with their eyes on the national title and Ware's words echoing in their heads.

Top-seeded Louisville -- the only No. 1 left -- will play Wichita State in the national semifinals next Saturday. In Ware's hometown, no less.

"We want to do this for him," Peyton Siva said. "We know how much it means to him."

Louisville (33-5) was devastated by Ware's injury, which occurred with 6:33 still left in the first half. The sophomore had jumped to try and block Tyler Thornton's 3-point shot but, and as he landed, his right leg snapped midway between his ankle and knee, the bone skewing almost at a right angle. Ware dropped to the floor right in front of the Louisville bench and, almost in unison, his teammates turned away in horror. Thornton grimaced, putting his hand to his mouth as he turned around.

"He stumbled a bit for a second and fell, and his leg wasn't where it should be," Luke Hancock said.

Ware had surgery later Sunday night, and Pitino said he and his son Richard, who recruited Ware, and an equipment manager would spend the night in Indy, along with the team's doctors.

School officials said doctors reset the bone and inserted a rod into the tibia during the two-hour procedure.

Coach Rick Pitino went to help Ware up when he went down -- and then saw the player's bone poking through the skin.

"I literally almost threw up," Pitino said, his voice catching. "Then I just wanted to get a towel to get it over that. But all the players came over and saw it."

Louisville forward Wayne Blackshear fell to the floor and Chane Behanan, Ware's closest friend on the team, looked as if he was going to be sick on the court, kneeling on his hands and feet. Hancock patted Ware's chest as doctors worked on the sophomore and Russ Smith walked away, pulling his jersey over his eyes. The arena was silent, and several fans wept and bowed their heads.

Pitino had tears in his eyes as he tried to console his players. Dieng draped an arm around the shoulders of Smith, who repeatedly wiped at his eyes and shook his head.

"It was really hard for me to pull myself together," Smith said. "I didn't ever think in a million years I would ever see something like that. And that it happened, especially, to a guy like Kevin Ware, I was completely devastated."

As the Cardinals (33-5) gathered at halfcourt to try and regroup before play resumed, Pitino called them over to the sideline, saying Ware wanted to talk to them before he left.

"He told us countless times: 'Just go win this game for me. Just go win this game. Don't worry about me, I'm fine. Just go win this game.' I don't know how he did it. I don't know how he got strength to do it, but he told us to go out there and win."

The injury was so gruesome CBS stopped showing replays of it. Many who saw it were reminded of the horrific broken leg that ended Joe Theismann's NFL career, and the former quarterback was among the many who took to Twitter to wish Ware well, saying, "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, but the Cardinals hope he can join them in Atlanta, where he moved before he started high school.

"He was groggy, in good spirits," Pitino said when he returned to his hotel late Sunday night after visiting Ware. "He saw us win the trophy and was crying and said it was all worthwhile."

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.

"Honestly, we were in shock," Hancock said. "I don't think we did re-group for the rest of the half. I think we were still in such shock. I mean, you could imagine how a team would feel if one of your brothers had this happen to them."

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