As Final Four begins, Louisville prepares for life after Ware

As Final Four begins, Louisville prepares for life after Ware

April 6th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

ATLANTA - When the Louisville Cardinals take the Georgia Dome court against Wichita State at 6:09 tonight in the opening game of the Final Four, their most famous player won't see a single second of action.

"Kevin Ware's probably the most famous person I know right now," Louisville senior point guard Peyton Siva said Friday afternoon. "When you have Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama call you, it's pretty good to say I know that person."

Almost everyone knows what happened to Ware six days ago against Duke in the first half of the Midwest Regional final inside Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium.

Attempting to block a Blue Devils shot, the reserve guard landed oddly on his right leg, the bones below his knee snapping in two places, one bone popping six inches through the skin.

It was so grotesque that most news outlets refused to replay it, or ran a lengthy disclaimer before doing so, in order to spare the squeamish from losing their Easter dinners.

It was so overwhelming to anyone who witnessed it that both Cardinals teammates and Blue Devils opponents lost their battles to fight away tears -- especially Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who attempted to cover the injury with a towel to keep his players from seeing it.

But as sometimes happens when an isolated event goes viral, streamed over the Internet for the whole world to witness, Ware's injury swiftly touched the entire Earth.

"He's such a celebrity right now, he's doing David Letterman's Top 10," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said Thursday with a grin. "I don't know if he has time for us."

Ware was going to try to find time for the media at the Final Four on Friday, but the injury that's expected to sideline him for at least four months got the better of him.

Whether it will hurt the Cards against Wichita State is another question.

"We don't have a backcourt substitute," Pitino explained. "We had a great rotation (leading scorer Russ Smith, Siva and Ware). All three guards were playing well. Now we have to play a walk-on (Tim Henderson). He's going to do the best job he can do."

Added Smith: "Without Kevin, it's going to be tougher. He's that 6-3 hybrid guard that, me and Peyton, we don't have what he has: athleticism, quickness, length. He really throws a lot of opposing offenses off. That's where we're going to miss Kevin.'

Henderson is a 6-foot-2 junior who has averaged 3.5 minutes this season, scoring a total of 16 points, including the 3-pointer he buried at the close of last week's Duke game.

But, as Siva pointed out, "He's been guarding Russ Smith the whole year. If you can guard Russ Smith, you can guard anybody."

With Ware coming off the bench, the Cardinals have guarded almost everyone they've played into oblivion, forcing an average of 18.6 turnovers a game, including 10.9 steals. Such defense has led Louisville to 14 straight wins. The Cards also are 29-0 when leading at halftime.

And while attempting to finish the job they started a year ago when they reached the Final Four but lost to eventual national champ Kentucky in the semifinals, these redbirds now have another reason to succeed.

"I think it will be a big motivation for us," sophomore forward Chane Behanan said. "One of our teammates went down. We, as a team, have to step it up."

Win two more games inside the Georgia Dome and Oprah and Michelle might call the entire Louisville team.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com