2013 Final Four: Louisville Cardinals
The Cards, led by guards Peyton Siva and Rus Smith, are favored, playing for fallen teammate Kevin Ware in Atlanta.
As Louisville heads into the Final Four, most of the attention on the Cardinals isn't on their domination of the Midwest Regional, or the fact they are the favorite to win the championship.
The story is Kevin Ware, who suffered a gruesome broken leg in the regional final win over Duke. He landed awkwardly and then fell in a heap -- with many people not even able to look at the injury. Ware had surgery Sunday night and remained hospitalized in Indianapolis on Monday.
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Against Duke, the Cardinals banded together to run the Blue Devils off the court in the second half. They were on an emotional high, playing like they had something to prove without Ware. After the game, there were players wearing Ware's No. 5 jersey.
On Saturday, the Cardinals have the defensive ability, deep rotation and top-to-bottom talent to emerge as the last one standing.
Coach: Rick Pitino | NCAA tournament record: 46-16
Pitino's best finish: National championship in 1996 (Kentucky)
Assistants: Kevin Keatts, Wyking Jones, Kareem Richardson
G-F Wayne Blackshear
Top reserve: G Luke Hancock
Leading scorer: Russ Smith (18.8)
Leading rebounder: Gorgui Dieng (9.5)
National titles: 1980, 1986 | Last Final Four: 2012
How Louisville got here: The Cardinals have barely broken a sweat in this NCAA tournament. After losing four of seven games (including three in a row) during a stretch of conference play, Louisville won its final seven regular-season games before cruising through the Big East tournament. Once in the NCAA tournament, the Cardinals mowed over North Carolina A&T, and then wore down Colorado State in the round of 32. Oregon made second-half runs in the Sweet 16, but didn't have the weapons. After the Ware injury in the regional final, Louisville absolutely dominated Duke, scoring 50 points in the second half en route to winning by 22.
Why Louisville might win it all: The Cardinals are the favorites, and for good reason. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have been nearly impossible to keep out of the paint, and each is capable of penetrating to collapse the defense. Once there, they can score themselves, kick out to shooters or dump off to Gorgui Dieng. The defensive end is what makes Louisville go, though. The Cardinals pressure the ball with Siva and Smith, and have an elite shot-blocker in Dieng. They force a ton of turnovers, and get easy points in transition.
Why Louisville might not win it all: While favored, the Cardinals are not without weaknesses. They can go cold from beyond the arc -- no one in Louisville's rotation shoots better than 37 percent from 3-point range. They have also been vulnerable to foul trouble, particularly when Siva or Dieng go off the floor. When defenses can slow down Smith and Siva, the entire offense can go stagnant, too. Offensively, teams able to break the press and get good looks can have success.
Player to watch: Peyton Siva. Russ Smith might be the leading scorer and most dangerous player, but Siva makes the Cardinals go. The senior point guard was outstanding against Duke, collecting 16 points and four assists and really turning the game into a blowout. When Siva struggles, though, Louisville is far less effective at both ends of the floor.
One guy soaring: Russ Smith. If the NCAA tournament ended today, Smith likely would be its Most Outstanding Player. He's been unbelievable in the big dance, averaging 26 points and 3.3 steals through four games. While he has a tendency to force shots and play out of control at times, he's nearly impossible to keep out of the lane and has the confidence to take big shots.
One guy slumping: Chane Behanan. Behanan has had some highlight-reel plays, but hasn't been that productive through four games. He's averaging only seven points and four rebounds in the tournament, and not providing consistency on the inside. Athletic freshman Montrezl Harrell is seeing his minutes increase, and has been more of a factor than Behanan at times.
Notable stat: Louisville has completely dominated defensively, ranking atop national defensive-efficiency rankings. The Cardinals allow only 0.82 points per possession, and also rank second nationally in defensive turnover percentage -- with teams coughing it up on nearly 28 percent of possessions against Louisville. Both Smith and Siva rank among the top 35 in steal percentage.
Final thought: Louisville is playing better than anyone and Rick Pitino has his guys firing on all cylinders at the right time. The Cardinals are on a 14-game winning streak, each of the past 10 games coming against NCAA tournament teams. Only two of the past 14 opponents played them within single-digits. Simply put, the Cardinals will have the target on their back in Atlanta.
Now, U of L is playing with an emotional edge in the aftermath of Ware's injury. Wichita State will be a test on Saturday, but the Cardinals have the advantage against the Shockers in nearly every category. The key for Louisville is that it can change defenses, and play at various speeds with a variety of weapons. Anything that Wichita State throws at them, Louisville can counter.
Michigan or Syracuse is capable of giving Louisville a game in the national championship, but Louisville is poised to cut down the nets next Monday.
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