Where does Louisville turn without Kevin Ware?
Russ Smith and Peyton Siva might need to play 38 minutes apiece on Saturday.
Given the Cardinals’ depth and talent, it seems they have what it takes to overcome an injury to a bench player -- but the loss of Ware could have an impact.
Since Ware’s graphic injury on Sunday evening, it’s been looked at as a motivational tool for Louisville -- just another way to bring a championship-caliber team together in its march for a title. The image of the Cardinals reaching down at the same time while Ware was lying on his back was arguably the best photo of the month.
With Ware undergoing surgery and recovering quickly enough to travel with the team to the Final Four, it’s a feel-good story.
But there’s also the other part of the injury: from a strategic standpoint, how does Louisville manage without Ware?
“It’s going to take a great effort without Kevin to win this thing,” coach Rick Pitino said. “We know that.”
Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have been the best backcourt in the tournament, with Smith arguably the frontrunner for Most Outstanding Player at this point. Siva dominated the second half against Duke, turning that game from a one-possession game to a blowout.
Given the style Louisville plays, though -- 40 minutes of full-court pressure with their guards -- it’s obvious Smith and Siva will need a breather or two at some point.
“We don’t have a backcourt substitute,” Pitino said. “We had a great rotation. All three guards were playing well. Obviously, when you press and run as much as we do, it becomes a great concern when you don’t have a substitute. We substitute every game and give those guys breaks.
“Now we can’t change our style of play because we won’t win or have a chance of winning, so now we have to play a walk-on. He’s got to do the best job he can do.”
Ware was a player who could use his athleticism and length to force turnovers on the defensive end, and he was also a very good finisher in transition. Luke Hancock is a perimeter sub, but he can’t defend like Ware or give Smith or Siva a breather at that end of the floor.
Junior Tim Henderson appeared in 25 games this season, mostly in garbage time, but he might have to get minutes early against Wichita State.
Siva and Smith have been great, but they will also have to be marathon men this weekend.
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