INDIANAPOLIS -- Louisville players and staffers have slightly different versions of what Kevin Ware said to the team from the Lucas Oil Stadium court while coping with an injury so gruesome that teammates seemed more inconsolable than he was.
"He said, 'It's OK. ... Win it.' He'll be fine," said forward Chane Behanan, who, minutes before, fell to the floor and later said he couldn't see straight because of the bone sticking out of his friend's leg.
|More on Duke-Louisville|
Louisville pulls together to claim Final Four bid
|More college basketball coverage|
“He said, ‘Stay focused on the game,' ” forward Stephan Van Treese said.
“Win the game for me,” team chaplain Ed Bradley recalls.
Whatever he said, and the message was pretty clear, Ware commanded his team to do something teams aren't always asked to do.
Coaches talk about living in the moment or winning the day. Well, this moment in the first half of the Elite Eight win over Duke was something awful. Players couldn't see past it.
Apparently Ware could.
There's a medical protocol for something like this. Nobody was dying. And Louisville had a Final Four to win.
Ware could return to a nice, full athletic career, just like NFL running back Michael Bush, the former Louisville running back who missed both his senior year with the Cardinals and his rookie season with the Raiders while rehabbing a broken tibia that required a steel rod to be inserted in his leg.
Louisville confirmed Ware -- whose leg collapsed near the Louisville bench after leaping to block Duke guard Tyler Thornton's 3-point attempt late in the first half -- broke his leg in two parts, and compared the injury to what Bush went through.
Without hearing those words from Ware, the sideline disarray could have carried Louisville into a tailspin.
“He had totally forgotten about his leg,” Siva said. “I think that's what helped us through it.”
Less than an hour after the game, head athletic trainer Fred Hina said the sophomore guard was in surgery and the staff would get an official update in about 2-3 hours.
Every facility has an emergency action plan, Hina said, and that the NCAA was prepared for everything.
The group caring for Ware -- Louisville's training/physician staff, the paramedic crew from the ambulance and the on-site athletic trainers the NCAA provides -- stabilized the fracture. The staff was dealing with sharp bones, an open fracture and the need to keep circulation in the lower extremities intact, Hina said.
The group placed the leg in a splint and boarded Ware up to eliminate unnecessary motion in the leg. The trainers stayed with the team while a team doctor rode to nearby Methodist Hospital with Ware and the paramedics.
Getting Ware to the ambulance was a quick process, maybe less than 10 minutes, and Ware's circulation was fine, Hina said.
Everyone acted fast despite an emotional circumstance for everyone on the bench.
“We provided him the emergency care he needed in a timely fashion,” Hina said. “It was very well organized.”
Ware had grown as a player in the tournament, scoring 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting off the bench in an Eight win Friday over Oregon.
His road back will require patience.
“His life just changed,” Bush tweeted Sunday evening. Bush added that he cried for Ware and wants to help him.
Louisville seems to have that covered for now. Behanan, known as a close friend of Ware's, put on Ware's No. 5 jersey and posed for the Lucas Oil crowd from the elevated stage for the Final Four presentation. After the game, players gushed over Ware's importance to the team as a friend and player.
Normal postgame celebration commenced all over the court. At the spot where Ware fell, a red-and-black-clad couple hugged, a few pictures were snapped and Peyton Siva Sr. stood close by with his trademark sleeveless Louisville No. 5 jersey.
The area included normal basketball wear and tear, a few scratches or sneaker marks.
That's a good thing since Louisville doesn't want to relive the pain. Siva said a prayer for the team in the locker room at halftime, asking “God to be with him and heal him.”
Coach Rick Pitino then told his team that it was time to bring Kevin back to Atlanta, where he played high school ball and also the home of the Final Four.
That was all Louisville needed to hear. At 42-all, Louisville broke off a 13-2 run and Duke never looked the same after that.
Ware dialed up Pitino's best play of the day with some sobering perspective of just a few words.
“[Ware] will be in Atlanta right there on the bench with us,” Siva said.