RETURN TO SPORTS
Final Four: Pitino aware that no Ware may put Louisville in a bind
Nancy Armour The Associated Press
Friday, April 5, 2013 12:00 am

Kevin Ware started only one game this season, but his absence leaves a void on offense and defense for the No. 1-seeded Cardinals. - TIMOTHY D. EASLEY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTA - His full-leg cast and crutches aside, Kevin Ware is no different than the rest of his Louisville teammates this week.

He's at team meetings. He's going to practice. He's riding the bus. He even put on his jersey to pose for the stock images that will be used during the Final Four telecast.

"He's doing everything he would normally do," Peyton Siva said.

Except playing.

Ware's presence at the Final Four is an emotional boost for the Cardinals, coming just days after he broke his lower right leg in gruesome fashion. But his absence on the floor leaves the top-seeded Cardinals vulnerable for the first time in the NCAA tournament.

"It's going to take a great effort without Kevin to win this thing. We know that," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Thursday. "I would have said we probably were offensively and defensively one of the better teams in the country.

"Now I think we've got some problems that we've got to overcome. If we can do that, we can win. But we've got some problems."

The Cardinals (33-5) play Wichita State (30-8) on Saturday.

Ware started only one game this year for Louisville, and that was back on Jan. 2. He is averaging fewer than 6 points in the NCAA tournament, and had a total of five assists and four steals in the first four games.

But he's been invaluable for the Cardinals, giving Pitino a much-needed backup for Siva and Russ Smith, the high-octane guards at the heart of Louisville's suffocating defense. The Cardinals don't know the meaning of the words "personal space," putting pressure on anyone who's got the ball, using their hands and arms so opponents can't get a good look at the basket, and sneaking in to bat away the ball or swipe a pass. It's exhausting to watch, let alone play, and Pitino has made liberal use of his bench to keep everybody fresh during the NCAA tournament.

Ware averaged 20 minutes in the first three games, above his 16.2 during the regular season.

Take away Ware, however, and Pitino's options are limited. Mike Marra missed the whole season after getting hurt in September.

Luke Hancock can play guard, but the junior has been outstanding as a backup forward and Pitino might not want to mess with that.

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