Whenever Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski face off, we are reminded of the Christian Laettner shot and arguably the greatest college basketball game ever played. It's a shot that will never be forgotten by college basketball fans.
And now we have Kevin Ware.
Louisville's Ware went up to contest Duke guard Tyler Thornton's three-point shot with 6:41 left on the clock in the first half on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, and by now, you've either seen or heard how he landed. It was gruesome. It was something anyone who witnessed would like to forget.
The Cardinals responded how a team should respond after seeing a teammate get injured like that. They mourned for their fallen brother. Then, they played the game of their lives.
"We got you, Kev!" Russ Smith screamed into the cameras after an 85-63 win that sent Louisville back to the Final Four.
That is where we expected the Cardinals to be when this tournament started—returning to the Final Four. Only when Ware went down, everything changed. The sophomore guard had played the best game of his career two days before against Oregon in the Sweet 16, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 25 minutes.
Ware is not a starter, but he is an integral part of Louisville's pressure defense and brought an elite skill off the bench: speed.
Take him off the roster, and can the Cardinals win without him? Yes. But could they win—could they even concentrate—after losing him like that?
The Cardinals, who led 21-20 when Ware was injured, showed great resolve by staying focused and in the game in the first half. They even led by three at halftime.
In the second half, they paid tribute to Ware by winning with speed and overwhelming the Blue Devils.
Smith and Peyton Siva relentlessly attacked the rim. They scored 11 points during a 17-2 run that turned the game from competitive to a blowout in the middle of the second half.
Gorgui Dieng would score the other six points during the run, and it was him who the Cardinals had to play without in November when they lost to Duke in the Bahamas.
The Blue Devils were the best team in the country at that point, but little doubt was left on Sunday of who the best team is in the nation now.
The Cardinals have been so dominant throughout this tournament that they have made us forget that for months, we've questioned whether there was truly a great team in college basketball this year.
Louisville is it, and now Pitino's team has its signature moment.
This past Thursday was the 21-year anniversary of the Laettner shot. How appropriate that Pitino and Krzyzewski would meet again on that same weekend.
"People, even to this day, that's what they'll talk about in terms of my career," legendary Duke guard Bobby Hurley told me last week. "Just reminding me of where they were when that game was played and everyone stopping what they were doing and focused on that finish no matter what else was going on."
In 20 years, people will probably stop Ware on the street and tell him where they were when they witnessed his injury.
Hopefully, he will return to the court in a year. Hopefully, that is not his final memory on the hardwood. And in eight days, his teammates have a chance to finish off what he helped them start in the city where Ware grew up.
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