Response to Ware's Injury Will Define Tournament

By Derrick Forsythe, Record Sports Editor
Posted 1/4/13

The most defining moment of this weekend's NCAA Regional games wasn't Ohio State's buzzer-beating antics nor Michigan's three-point magic. Both were captivating but will eventually fade with memory. …

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Response to Ware's Injury Will Define Tournament

The most defining moment of this weekend's NCAA Regional games wasn't Ohio State's buzzer-beating antics nor Michigan's three-point magic. Both were captivating but will eventually fade with memory. The most resounding image from this year's tournament will undoubtedly be the one that reached beyond the highlight reels and record books. One that cannot be conveyed through statistics. Sunday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, the universal emotions associated with a devastating sports injury were on full display. In the minutes leading up to Kevin Ware's horrific compound leg fracture, Louisville fans had exchanged verbal blows with the Duke faithful they outnumbered by an overwhelming margin. The crowd of 34,000 had been raucous since tipoff, celebrating each triumphant possession or defensive stand. As the Cardinals' sophomore guard landed awkwardly in front of his team's bench, an eery silence enveloped the arena. All of the animosity and crudeness that exists in our overly-competitive nature disappeared. Whether you were a Duke or Louisville fan, Mizzou or even Kansas fan, you became a Kevin Ware supporter in an instant. You felt a mutual sickness and compassion for an athlete who inexplicably suffered one of the worst sports injuries in recent history. It was as if everyone who remotely had an interest in the game was suddenly connected to Ware's broken leg by an invisible nerve. We cringed, attempting to stomach a pain that was merely a figment of our imaginations. But it was, oh, so real. The emotions in the arena were palpable. Coaches from both sides — grown men who have built a reputation on being stern and unflappable — sobbed or fought back tears. Rivals empathized with their fallen counterpart. Joe Theismann cringed in agony, as did every other athlete who has ever experienced a life-changing injury and the grueling recovery that follows. Sunday night was about everything that is right in sports — about being able to put aside negative emotions and realize how little the game is and how big our hearts can become when the circumstance presents itself. Whether or not Louisville goes on to win the title in Atlanta, the 2013 NCAA Tournament will be defined — not necessarily by Ware's injury — but by the emotions it surfaced and how his teammates responded. It was a picture of mortality, heroes exposed as humans with feelings, just like the rest of us. At the end of the night as the Cardinals celebrated their regional crown, Coach Rick Pitino took the mic, interrupting the stadium announcer. He led the crowd in a chant that wasn't divided by team colors or tradition. The final sound that echoed from the walls of the arena were a simple two syllables ... Kev-in, Kev-in, Kev-in.


Moving Forward

The same Louisville team that I didn't believe was worthy of the overall No. 1 seed was not.

This is not the same Louisville team, plain and simple. It's not the same group of inconsistent, vulnerable scrappers that clawed their way through the regular season.

Louisville has won 14 straight games, but I believe this Cardinal team was really born sometime in the second half of the BIg East Tournament championship game.

They trailed fellow Final Four qualifier Syracuse by 16 points before rallying to win by 18. Explain that.

I once criticized Russ Smith for not being clutch, comparing him to Phil Pressey after he continually failed to convert in his team's five-overtime loss to Notre Dame. Now he's well on his way to being the tournament MVP.

Peyton Siva is no longer the aspiring, inexperienced leader he was a year ago, surprising the nation with a breakthrough Final Four berth.

Smith, Siva and Gorgui Dieng have been there and know what to expect.

The Cardinals no longer have their big bully brother standing in the way of the coveted title game. Instead, Louisville will play an unlikely opponent in Wichita State, who finally tranquilized the comeback kings known as Ohio State.

If you're a Mizzou fan, you should take gratification in seeing Kansas sit at home while it's little sister from the Sunflower state dances on. It took a Trey Burke miracle, but the Jayhawks are done and Michigan is finally back in the basketball spotlight for the first time since the Fab Five.

The Wolverines will square off against another of the nation's most paralyzing defenses in Syracuse. The Orangemen have ridden their signature 2-3 zone to Coach Jim Boeheim's fourth Final Four appearance, and I have a feeling revenge might be in their sights.

That said, I'm not sure anybody can stop this Louisville team. Adversity on Sunday night didn't slow them. It propelled them.


Follow the Madness

I'll be in Atlanta this weekend attending the Final Four, as I do each season.

This time I will be providing frequent updates through our new website, and also through our Record sports Twitter feed @WarCoSports.

I'll let you know about my celebrity encounters, game-related analysis and other insight as I journey to the NCAA games as well as several other sporting events during a busy weekend.

Louisville players display Kevin Ware's No. 5 jersey while celebrating their Midwest Regional Championship on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Ware suffered a horrific leg injury during the first half of the Cardinals' win over Duke.

Getty Images Photo.