The barbaric injury to Kevin Ware morphed into inspiration for coach Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville fended off coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils 85-63 and punched the final ticket to the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta.
But it was Ware's words that jolted the Cardinals as Rick Pitino stated in an interview with Tracy Wolfson via CBSSports.com:
"I don't think we could have gathered ourselves—I know I couldn't have—if Kevin didn't say over and over again, `Just go win the game,"' Pitino said.
"Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots," Pitino said. "Remember the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he's yelling is `Win the game, win the game.' I've never seen anything like that."
In addition, Wolfson also reported on some words from Ware per BleacherReport.com's official Twitter:
.@tracywolfson reports Kevin Ware told his teammates: "Don't worry about me. I'll be OK. You guys go win this thing."— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 31, 2013
Talk about the definition of mental toughness.
For anyone who has dealt with turmoil in athletics, a teammate refusing to acknowledge pain and focusing on winning is incredibly motivating. At the core of Ware's words is a true competitor, because it would be easy (and reasonable) for any person to be concerned with the injury at hand, especially one as horrific as Ware's.
Which of the remaining teams matches up best vs. Louisville?
Instead, the contrary became reality, and Louisville has more incentive to play for than just a national title.
The Cardinals are playing for the next guy, their teammate and friend.
This is also one area that distinctly separates average programs from the great ones—regardless of sport or level of competition. You see the team and its individual components play for one another.
As a result, team chemistry is greatly enhanced, and the learning process quickens. The Cardinals simply had to experience an unfortunate set of circumstances in an already tough situation. Injuries or no injuries, defeating Duke in the Elite Eight was not going to be an easy task.
What came in the aftermath of Ware's injury revealed the identity of coach Pitino's 2012-13 squad.
This group of players already possessed an immense amount of talent, chemistry and established dominance by tying Georgetown for the Big East regular-season title and taking the conference's tournament.
However, responding in such impressive fashion at the most crucial, yet unimaginable time amplified Louisville's force as a united team. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports writes of the Cardinals' focus after the injury:
Leading by three at halftime, Pitino told his team, "If we don't get him home to Atlanta (for the Final Four), it wasn't worth playing this season."
"They were able to pull themselves back in, focus and play," [Fred] Hina said. "Pretty special bunch of kids."
Said backup center Stephan Van Treese: "It shows how much heart we have."
Given that the Blue Devils could not deny the Cardinals despite the game being tied at 42 with just under 16 minutes remaining, Louisville's defense took over and asphyxiated Duke's offense.
And we have to expect that this motivation to play for Ware will guide and impact Pitino's team next weekend as well.
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