INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Siva hoisted a Final Four trophy. Chane Behanan raised something even more meaningful.
The Louisville forward minutes earlier had slipped on the tight No. 5 jersey of injured teammate Kevin Ware, but at the conclusion of the Cardinals’ 85-63 Elite Eight victory against second-seeded Duke, he lifted it for the roaring crowd to see.
The Cardinals had a greater cause Sunday night than making a second straight Final Four, where they will face No. 9 Wichita State.
Ware was lost in the first half to a gruesome lower-leg injury.
His right calf buckled and his leg bones snapped when he landed awkwardly following an attempt to contest a shot. Play stopped for several minutes as Ware was surrounded by teammates at Lucas Oil Stadium and then taken off the court on a stretcher.
“I don’t think any of us, with what we had to witness, could have overcome it if it wasn’t for Kevin Ware 12 times saying to the guys, ‘I’ll be fine. Win the game,’ ” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “He kept saying it over and over and over.’ “
Teammates immediately withdrew in horror upon seeing the extent of his injury.
Luke Hancock bent over Ware, sympathetically patting his chest as Ware writhed in pain. Guard Russ Smith slumped over and cried. Pitino said he almost threw up and he wiped away tears before play resumed.
“When Kevin went down, it was devastating for all of us,” Siva said. “Kevin Ware is really the reason why we pulled this game out. Everybody on the team just wanted to step up for him.”
Ware underwent two-hour surgery Sunday night and had his bone reset, the injury closed and a rod inserted in his right tibia.
Instead of melting after halftime, the top-seeded Cardinals found their mettle.
Pitino’s halftime message?
“Don’t lose this game for Kevin Ware,” Smith said.
The Cardinals used a 20-4 run fueled by Siva, Smith and center Gorgui Dieng to build a 62-46 lead with less than nine minutes remaining.
Siva (16 points) and Smith (23 points) penetrated with ease and Dieng dominated inside with 14 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
The Blue Devils struggled to score after trailing 35-32 at halftime, and Seth Curry was held to 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting. Forward Mason Plumlee led Duke with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
At the conclusion, Louisville players burst into emotional exhilaration as Pitino led the crowd in chants of “Kev-in!”
The Cardinals masterfully channeled their shock and solemnity into inspiration and victory. They hope to do it again at the Final Four.
Michigan 79, Florida 59
ARLINGTON, Texas — Somewhere in his heart of hearts, Michigan coach John Beilein has plan for the ideal way for his team to begin a basketball game.
This was better. Way better.
Michigan punched its ticket to the Final Four on Sunday by punching Florida in the face on the opening tip and racing to a 79-59 victory to capture the South Region title before 36,585 fans in Cowboy Stadium.
The Wolverines (30-7) scored the game’s first 13 points, eight coming from Mitch McGary, and then fellow freshman Nik Stauskas took over.
Stauskas, who missed only one shot in the game, hit five three-point shots in the first half when he scored 19 of his 22 points as Michigan built an insurmountable lead.
The Wolverines are headed to Atlanta and the Final Four for Saturday’s semifinal game against Syracuse, also a No. 4 seed. It will be their first Final Four for Michigan since 1993 and they will try to win their first title since 1989.
Trey Burke wasn’t called upon for any last-second heroics this time, but he did contribute 13 points, seven assists and eight rebounds as well as three well-timed baskets to keep Florida from getting back in the game.
McGary (11 points, nine rebounds) got Michigan off to a roaring start with a fast break lay-up and a thundering dunk after a slick behind-the-back pass from Stauskas, who followed with a three-point basket.
After a Florida time-out, Burke hit McGary with a perfect pass for a lay-up and then Burke scored on a drive before McGary made it a 13-0 lead with another inside bucket.
Will Yeguete (13 points) finally scored for Florida at the 16:29 mark, but Burke answered quickly.
With just under 6 minutes left in the half Florida finally scored consecutive baskets to cut the lead to 30-15.
After a rare Florida basket, Stauskas drilled back-to-back triples and Michigan’s lead grew to 41-17.