ATLANTA -- Suddenly, there are questions about an aspect of Louisville's basketball team that has been considered one of its primary strengths all seasons -- its depth, which has been successful in wearing down most opponents.
Going into Saturday's Final Four semifinal against Wichita State (30-8) in the Georgia Dome (6:09 p.m. tipoff), the biggest uncertainty facing the top-seeded Cardinals (33-5) is how they will adjust for the loss of top backcourt sub Kevin Ware. The sophomore guard, who everyone not living in a cave knows by now, is out with a broken leg suffered in last week's Midwest Regional win over Duke.
There's no question his absence will be felt, as point guard Peyton Siva readily acknowledged Friday.
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"It hurts us a lot because Kevin's been playing great basketball and he's been able to come in and give us a lift off the bench and we lost nothing when me or Russ went out," Siva says. "It's going to be tough replacing him, but everybody else is going to have to step up their level of play."
Ware was averaging 15 minutes per game in relief of both Siva and shooting guard Russ Smith. He could play either position, had become a scoring threat off the pick and roll and was extremely valuable on defense with his length and quickness, hence his nickname of "Tarantula."
So will the Cards have to ease up on their full-court pressure so Siva and Smith can conserve energy and stay in the game longer? And will that duo have to play more cautiously to avoid foul trouble, which both have been prone to at times?
"Naw, I'll still play the same way I've always played," Siva says. "Not picking up cheap fouls, but staying aggressive. You can't worry about foul trouble at all. I try to avoid foul trouble every game. Sometimes it finds me; I don't know how (smiling). I've just got to play a lot smarter, but Coach P doesn't want me to lose my aggressiveness. I've got to be more careful about my slap-downs, more careful about the way I move my feet."
"You can't really say, 'Stay out of foul trouble,'" Smith says. "You just say, 'Don't make any cheap fouls.' We're going to keep our aggressiveness. Nothing is going to change; we just have to be really careful about the reach-ins or the stupid fouls or the hacks, or getting an offensive foul. If we pick up a good foul or maybe one that is questionable, we can live with it. We know how important Kevin Ware was to this team."
If a substitute is necessary, first off the bench could be walk-on Tim Henderson, a junior. Coach Rick Pitino has also raised the possibility of playing Luke Hancock and/or Wayne Blackshear in the backcourt. Both are forwards, but have at least passable guard skills.
However, Pitino says the most important thing is for the other Cards to realize they have to simply have to play better with Ware out.
"The problem we have is we were a deep team in the frontcourt, but not in the backcourt," Pitino says. "We had a 3-guard rotation and the great thing about this team is, while we've been on this run when we've substituted Kevin Ware, sometimes we gain, we didn't lose.
"So now you're down to a 2-guard rotation and they're always in foul trouble every game because of the way we play. We can't alter our style because we're not going to win if we do that. So what I told the players, 'Tim will step up and he'll give us some minutes, but the rest of you have to play better.'
"Every single guy has to give us more because Tim is not going to be Kevin. He'll do a good job, he'll play as hard as he can play and give us a good body, but he's not Kevin Ware. So we just have to get more out of the other guys; there's nobody to come in for Kevin."
WARE DOES LETTERMAN TOP 10
Meanwhile, Ware's fame continues to grow as the result of his injury and his courageous response to it. His latest moment in the national spotlight came Thursday night when he read the Top Ten List on 'The Late Show' with David Letterman.'
Pitino and Siva both mentioned Ware's rising during Friday's press conference.
"He's such a celebrity right now -- he's doing David Letterman's Top Ten -- I don't know if he has time for us," Pitino joked.
"If anything, I'm just glad to know Kevin Ware now even more because he's the most famous person I know. When you have Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama call you, it's pretty amazing."
Ware taped the Letterman segment from Atlanta, reading material furnished by Letterman's writers. The Top Ten list was, "Top Ten Thoughts Going Through Kevin Ware's Mind" right after the injury.
10. "What was that loud cracking sound?"
9. "I hope this doesn't leave a bruise"
8. "Hey, look -- my tibia!"
6. "Did it go in?"
5. "Oh boy . . . hospital food!"
4. "Tape it up, Coach, I'm staying in"
3. "They fired Leno?"
2. "Heat, then ice or ice, then heat?"
1. "At least my bracket's not busted"
'WARE HEADS' TO BE DISTRIBUTED
There will be 1,000 oversized Ware heads on a stick in the stands during the UofL-Wichita State game, courtesy of New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire.
UofL spokesman Kenny Klein said the school had already gotten a quote and placed an order for them, when Stoudemire paid the bill "without us even being involved somehow."
The Ware heads on a stick will be passed out to UofL students. Klein said he doesn't know of any Stoudemire connection to Ware or UofL. Ware will be on the Cards' bench for the semifinal, but didn't attend UofL's public practice Friday afternoon so he could rest.