The Midwest Regional showcased some of the most anticipated matchups of the NCAA tournament. Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, and Oregon all converged at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the event, March 29-31.
The first game was the battle of the Louisville Cardinals and the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks, being the 12th seed in the Midwest, were not anticipated to be there. Even though they weren’t expecting to get all the to the Sweet 16, Oregon took it as a great opportunity and made sure they embraced it.
“Disappointed today,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman. “Didn't feel like we put our best foot forward in the first half. Dug ourselves a pretty big hole and weren't able to come back. Louisville is a very good basketball team and very talented.”
Going into the game, Louisville had one major factor on their side: the fans. Given the short commute to Indianapolis, the Louisville faithful easily outnumbered Oregon fans. The stands appeared to be a sea of red.
Both teams started slowly, but Louisville soon pulled ahead and proved that they were the team worthy of advancing to the Elite Eight. As the last few seconds expired, Lucas Oil exploded with cheers.
“And we were short of gas tonight without Russ Smith,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “We couldn't win. We shot 61 percent in the first half. Our defense was porous at best, and that's carried us.”
The Duke Blue Devils and Michigan State Spartans took the court to warm up for their big game. This game was a great matchup of arguably two of the best coaches of all time. It was a close game, but only for the first half. The Blue Devils, led by Seth Curry’s 30 points, went on a second half streak to finish off the Spartans.
“With a team like that, they can get on a run anytime during the game. It was kind of the same thing that happened against Syracuse in their Big East championship,” said Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon. “They are just a great team and I give all credit to them.”
The Elite Eight matchup was set. On Sunday, one team’s dream would be realized. The Louisville Cardinals would face the Duke Blue Devils; the winner would then advance onto the Final Four in Atlanta.
“Well, we're very excited to be in the Elite Eight,” remarked Pitino. “We did not play one of our better games out of the last 15 or so yesterday, but I think that was due to Oregon. We played very good offensively. It was just our weakest defensive game. And the guys basically defensively had a night off, so they're going to be very, very fresh against Duke.”
Duke and Louisville tipped off and the game was hard fought. Louisville constantly harassed Duke with their full-court press, forcing them into several uncharacteristic turnovers. Duke still powered through their difficulties, keeping the game close.
With a little more than six minutes left in the first half, Louisville’s Kevin Ware jumped up to challenge Tyler Thornton’s three-pointer. When Ware came down, his right leg snapped. Lucas Oil Stadium went silent for the first time in the game. Everyone in attendance was in shock. Louisville players then dropped to their knees in tears, even Coach Pitino couldn’t hold back his emotion. Ware, laid right in front of the Louisville bench as medics came over and covered up his leg. Ware kept yelling, “Win the game!” despite the bone sticking out his leg. He was then lifted onto a stretcher and taken to Methodist Hospital to have surgery later that night. Louisville finished the half with a three-point lead. During halftime Coach Pitino had to make sure that his team stayed in the game and didn’t let the injury get to them.
“I mean, when it very first happened it was hard to focus,” said Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell. “He looked me in the eyes and told me to win the game. It was something I feel like I had to do.”
When the Cardinals hit the court in the second half, they had more fire than ever and were able to extend the lead. Louisville won by 22. The stadium burst into cheers when the score was final. The Louisville Cardinals stood upon the stage wearing their champions’ gear hoisting not only their trophy up but Kevin Ware’s jersey. The players then took turns wearing it. They made sure that Kevin was able to celebrate with them.
“We knew who we had this game for, we knew we were gonna celebrate for in any type of way we could,” said Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear.
Coach Pitino also made the decision not to cut down the nets, because he believes that this is not the end yet. The main goal is a national championship.
Happiness filled the Louisville locker room, as they were all anticipating their upcoming game in Atlanta versus the Wichita State Shockers.
It was a completely different mood in the Duke locker room, especially for the seniors who will not be returning the next season.
“I think we had a good season, for the most part. I mean it is tough right now because it is the end of the way but we had a great run,” said Duke’s Seth Curry. “I was happy to be a part of this team all year.”
Congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals and don’t forget to watch their big game on Saturday at 6:05 pm on CBS!