The scene in Indianapolis was set for an epic battle, and for the first 13 1/2 minutes, the Cardinals and Blue Devils were delivering it.
Then, everything stopped with one play, and both players and fans were reduced to tears.
Louisville's Kevin Ware suffered an apparent compound fracture of his leg as he landed after contesting a 3-pointer, and the injury was so gruesome that teammates began crying as Ware lay in front of the Cardinals bench.
The arena fell into stunned silence as trainers attended to Ware. Coach Rick Pitino wiped away tears as his player was stretchered off the court and taken to the hospital.
Wow RT @zschonbrun: Several Louisville players appeared to vomit on the bench— Bill Reiter (@foxsportsreiter) March 31, 2013
I've yet to see the injury replay and if i'm lucky i'll never it. I don't know why TV shows these things over and over. Who wants to see it?— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) March 31, 2013
Play resumed, and the Blue Devils are dueling a top-seeded Cardinals (Follow it LIVE!) that now has extra motivation to pull off an inspiring win and reach the Final Four for their fallen teammate.
Louisville's defense is giving the Blue Devils fits, as are guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, who sent Duke's Ryan Kelly to the bench with three fouls and eight minutes to play in the first half. Seth Curry, who had 29 points in Friday's 71-61 win over Michigan State, was held scoreless in the first half.
Coach K is one win from his 12th Final Four appearance, which would tie John Wooden's record for a coach. He is tied for second with North Carolina's Dean Smith.
The Wolverines reached their first Final Four since the Fab Five era behind freshmen Nick Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, who got them going against the Gators with 29 first-half points to open a double-digit lead. Stauskas finished 6 for 6 on 3-pointers for 22 points while star guard Trey Burke, who was scoreless in the first half against Kansas in the Sweet 16, had 11 first-half points and finished with 15.
Florida's defense wasn't as effective against Michigan, which averages fewer than 10 turnovers, best in the tourney.
Michigan is full of NBA bloodlines, with Robinson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jon Horford, (Check out some other famous sons who play college hoops) and fab freshmen. (See some of this season's other first-year phenoms)
What does it look like playing basketball in Cowboys Stadium? Like this:
Good thing the scoreboard is so big, 'cause the Gators did a lot of this.
McGary had a huge 25-point, 14-rebound game to help the Wolverines rally to beat top-seed Kansas, 87-85, on Friday in overtime. But the Wolverines got here behind Burke, who forced OT with the biggest shot of the tournament:
IF YOU MISSED IT ...
The Shockers became the second No. 9 seed ever to reach the Final Four on Saturday, shutting down Ohio State in the first half and then holding off a furious Buckeyes rally for an historic 70-66 win.
Wichita State joined Syracuse in the Final Four after the Orange, on a tear since the Big East Tournament, gave Big East rival Marquette fits with their defense in a 55-39 win. President Barack Obama was on hand in DC to watch the Orange punch their first ticket to the Final Four since 2003.
With Wichita State making its first trip to the Final Four since 1965 — and only second in school history — let's look at the biggest Cinderellas of the past 20 years.
Penn also made it to the Final Four as a 9-seed in 1979. Only three lower seeds have reached the Final Four (all as 11-seeds): LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. No team seeded lower than 8 has made it to the national championship game. Butler lost as an 8-seed in the 2011 championship game and Villanova won the 1985 championship as an 8-seed, the lowest seed to win the title.
How's your bracket doing? Yeah, we thought so.
''We're all new to this, but I think we're ready for this,'' Shockers star Cleanthony Early said. ''We're going to prepare ourselves, and this game was pretty good preparation. We started at the bottom, and we've been working our way up.''
So can we expect a Shocker anthem like we got for FGCU?
ZONE DEFENSE: IT'S NOT COMPLICATED
And yet Marquette couldn't solve Syracuse's zone. The Golden Eagles scored seven points in the first 14 minutes ... and had zero first downs. This is Big East basketball at its most brutal. The most entertaining thing of the first half was the new "It's Not Complicated" commercial featuring Magic, Kareem, Bird and Bill Russell.
But Syracuse's zone held Marquette to a season low in scoring.
''We got the right personnel for each key position,'' C.J. Fair said. ''We got big long guards, we got big long forwards that can cover ground and our centers do a good job holding down the inside.''