ATLANTA — His full-leg cast and crutches aside, Kevin Ware is no different from the rest of his Louisville teammates this week. He’s at team meetings. He’s going to practice. He’s riding the bus. He even put on his jersey to pose for the stock images that will be used during the Final Four telecast.
“He’s doing everything he would normally do,” Peyton Siva said.
Ware’s presence at the Final Four is an emotional boost for the Cardinals, coming just days after he broke his right leg in gruesome fashion. But his absence on the floor leaves the top-seeded Cardinals vulnerable for the first time in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s going to take a great effort without Kevin to win this thing. We know that,” Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. “I would have said we probably were offensively and defensively one of the better teams in the country. Now I think we’ve got some problems that we’ve got to overcome.”
The Cardinals (33-5) play Wichita State (30-8) on Saturday night.
Ware started only one game this year for Louisville, and that was back on Jan. 2. He was averaging fewer than six points in the NCAA tournament.
But he’d been invaluable for the Cardinals, giving Pitino a much-needed backup for Siva and Russ Smith, the high-octane guards at the heart of Louisville’s suffocating defense.
Ware averaged 20 minutes in the first three games, above his 16.2 during the regular season.
Take away Ware, however, and Pitino’s options are limited. “We don’t have a backcourt substitute,” Pitino said. “Obviously when you press and run as much as we do, it becomes a great concern when you don’t have a substitute.”
Ware played 25 minutes in the Midwest Regional semifinal, his most minutes all year except for 32 in that five-overtime loss to Notre Dame, after Siva picked up two early fouls. When Louisville lost to Kentucky in last year’s Final Four, Siva sat the final seven minutes of the first half after picking up two.
“There’s never a game where they don’t have foul trouble,” Pitino said. “So I’m more concerned with the foul trouble and the way we play than I am their rest.”
It’s not as if the Cardinals can change their style, either, because it’s their hair-on-fire defense that’s gotten them this far. They’ve held opponents to 38.2 percent shooting and 56.3 points during their current 14-game win streak.