INDIANAPOLIS — A gruesome injury that left Louisville guard Kevin Ware with a broken leg plunged Lucas Oil Stadium into horrified silence, with coach Rick Pitino wiping away tears and shocked teammates openly weeping during Sunday’s Midwest Regional final.
Ware’s right leg bent in such an awkward and frightening angle that CBS stopped showing replays shortly after the fall in the NCAA tournament matchup against Duke.
He was taken into surgery at Methodist Hospital after the game to repair the fracture. School officials said the leg, broken in two places, was reset and a rod inserted into his right tibia. Ware is expected to stay in Indianapolis until at least Tuesday.
Even as he was being treated on the court, Ware was encouraging his teammates, Pitino said.
“The bone’s 6 inches out of his leg and all he’s yelling is, ‘Win the game, win the game,’” Pitino said. “I’ve not seen that in my life. … Pretty special young man.”
Viewers who watched the injury on TV reacted on social networks and (hash)KevinWare shot to one of the top worldwide trending topics on Twitter. Video of the injury was posted on YouTube — CBS initially replayed it twice before changing course.
The brutal mishap occurred after Ware jumped to contest a 3-pointer by Tyler Thornton. Ware’s leg buckled when he landed, bending almost at a right angle. Nearly six seconds ran off the clock before the officials, at Pitino’s urging, stopped the game with 6:33 left in the first half.
Louisville star Russ Smith heard the break and Chane Behanan, Ware’s closest friend, couldn’t believe what was happening.
“The bone was literally out. I saw white, it was literally out,” said Behanan, who collapsed to his hands and feet at the sight.
The two spoke at halftime.
“He said ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m good, I’ll have my surgery tonight,’” Behanan said. “Go win it for me.”
Two doctors speculated Ware might have had stress fractures that predisposed him to such a break. Pitino said it was the same injury former Louisville running back Michael Bush had in football. Bush, now with the Chicago Bears, has recovered to have a productive NFL career.
It turned out Bush was watching the game on TV. “I just cried,” he wrote on Twitter. “I feel so bad. Flashback of myself. Anyone if he needs anything please let me know.”
The injury happened right in front of Pitino and the Louisville bench, and several Cardinals were overcome with emotion.
Louisville forward Wayne Blackshear fell to the floor, crying, and Behanan looked as if he was going to be sick on the court, kneeling on his hands and feet. Peyton Siva sat a few feet away, a hand covering his mouth.
“I dropped to go the ground. I’ve never seen anything like that,” Behanan said. “I don’t remember the last time I cried.”
Luke Hancock patted Ware’s chest as doctors worked on the sophomore and Russ Smith — who is from New York City like Ware — walked away, pulling his jersey over his eyes.
Someone finally pulled Behanan to his feet, but he doubled over and needed a few seconds to gather himself. As Ware was being loaded onto a stretcher, the Cardinals gathered at midcourt until Pitino called them over, saying that Ware wanted to talk to them before he left.
In the immediate aftermath, condolences poured in on social media. Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who famously sustained a broken leg on “Monday Night Football” in a game against the New York Giants, tweeted that “Watching Duke/ Louisville my heart goes out to Kevin Ware.”
Dr. Reed Estes, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and team physician for the UAB football team, said basketball players are prone to stress fractures in the tibia, the larger of the two leg bones, and that can weaken them.
“If these are not detected they can result in a full fracture, particularly if the landing mechanics are just right” after a jump, Estes said. Surgery to stabilize the bones is usually successful, and Ware should be fine to play next season, he said.
Dr. Frederick Azar, head of the Campbell Clinic in Memphis, Tenn., and a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, said Ware “jumped pretty far horizontally and vertically, and he landed with a twist,” which puts so much torsion and stress on the bones they could have just snapped. He agreed with Estes’ assessment that a stress fracture could have made Ware more prone to such an injury.
Louisville, the top overall seed in the tourney, went more than 3 minutes without scoring after the accident but regained its composure to take a 35-32 halftime lead and went on to an 85-63 victory.
“We won this for him,” Pitino said. “We were all choked up with emotion for him. We’ll get him back to normal. We’ve got great doctors, great trainers. We talked about it every timeout, ‘Get Kevin home.’”
Ware, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from the Bronx who played his high school basketball in the Atlanta area, was instrumental in Louisville’s victory over Oregon in the regional semifinals. He scored 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench.
Behanan switched into Ware’s No. 5 jersey near the end of the game.
Afterward, he kept on it and the Cardinal players led the heavily partisan Louisville crowd in chants of “Kev-in, Kev-in.”