Louisville has enough pressure as the lone No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
As if that pressure wasn't enough, the injury to guard Kevin Ware has brought things into perspective for a team that came and failed at the Final Four in 2012, only to be right back at this point again in 2013.
Ware's gruesome injury and subsequent nightmare replay (too graphic to show anymore) have rocked the NCAA tournament over the last week, even though the Cardinals are getting ready to play No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday in Atlanta.
It's a tough situation for any team to be in.
While the obvious revenge factor of the Final Four is here for Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and the rest of the remnants of Louisville's 2012 Final Four team, playing for Ware has been priority No. 1 since the end of the Elite Eight win over Duke.
The team is obviously carrying the added weight of playing for its fallen comrade.
The school has responded by selling t-shirts to benefit Ware's cause, although not all agree with the tactic (via USA Today). Adidas also has a fresh warmup that the team will be wearing in pre-game against the Shockers on Saturday, and Ware will be in the audience as his team tries to reach the championship game (via ESPN).
Sometimes the game is about more than just the game.
It's clear that Louisville loves Kevin Ware. As noted by ESPN's Dana O'Neil, the Cardinals are clearly playing for their fallen friend and carry the added weight of winning a title for him after the horrific pain he likely felt when going down and fracturing his lower leg in several places against Duke.
When a team is faced with this kind of challenge, it responds in one of two ways. One way to respond is by rising to the occasion, finding a deeper place within oneself and elevating one's game to the next level when the stakes have never been higher.
The other is to fold under pressure.
It's hard to fault Louisville for either after what's likely been one of the most emotional weeks in the lives of the kids (and Rick Pitino) on the Louisville roster. It's hard enough to prepare for a Final Four game without the loss of a key bench contributor or the pain these guys must feel, but that's just the nature of sports sometimes.
Don't forget—Louisville is equipped to handle Wichita State on Saturday. The Cards lead the tournament field in points per game with 80.8, have the luxury of boasting two guards that both get after it on offense and defense (Russ Smith and Siva) and exceptional depth from guys like Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell.
All the pieces of a title team are in place. Louisville, however, is now playing for something more than just a shiny trophy and a place in NCAA tournament history. If those accolades weren't enough, the Cardinals are now playing for a friend that doesn't get to compete on the field of battle while his comrades do.
That's about as emotional as it gets.
Louisville will have to channel its emotion into success without over-pressing on Saturday night. When you want to win so bad sometimes you don't let the game come to you—something I'm sure Pitino and his staff are stressing to each other right now in a pre-game meeting.
But cream rises to the top, and Louisville has risen through the ranks as a true contender this entire season. The Cardinals are two games away from the NCAA pinnacle, and have added motivation to get them over the hump.
It's time to rise to the occasion, with Ware's attendance this team's biggest motivation for college basketball lore.