Updated at: 03/31/2013 9:09 PM
By MICHAEL MAROT
(AP) INDIANAPOLIS - Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski knows all about what it takes to win the national title. He wasn’t ready to hand the NCAA tournament over to Louisville on Sunday, but he sure was impressed with what he saw.
The Blue Devils struggled against Louisville’s pressure defense in the second half and were unable to overcome a slow start by Seth Curry in an 85-63 loss in the Midwest Regional final.
Russ Smith scored 23 points and the top-seeded Cardinals put aside the shock from Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury to earn a second straight trip to the Final Four.
Duke is heading home with the third-worst tournament loss of the Krzyzewski era.
"It’s the best team we’ve played, and they’re obviously better than we played in the Bahamas," said Krzyzewski, referring to Duke’s 76-71 win over the same Cardinals in November. "We got beat by a better team, and we beat a lot of really good teams."
The Blue Devils (30-6) were hoping to get Krzyzewski to the Final Four for the 12th time, which would equal John Wooden’s record for coaches.
But Louisville was just too much to handle. Gorgui Dieng had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks for the Cardinals, who only became more determined after Ware went down late in the first half with a horrifying right leg injury.
Ware was diagnosed with an open fracture in two places _ an injury that had Cardinals players crying and embracing and Duke players covering their eyes. He had surgery at Methodist Hospital in Indy and coach Rick Pitino said the recovery is expected to take one year.
Krzyzewski, saddened by the sight, even offered to let the teams warm up again if Pitino thought it was necessary.
For Duke, starting over may have been its best option.
Louisville (33-5) tried to keep bigger players and multiple defenders on Curry all day long, and it worked perfectly.
The senior guard didn’t attempt a shot in the first 8 1/2 minutes. He missed his first three attempts and finished 3 of 9 from the field while scoring 12 points.
Curry averaged 24 points in Duke’s three tourney wins.
"I was trying not to force it. My teammates were getting good looks in the first half," he said. "I wasn’t trying to take bad shots and force anything. But they did a good job in the first half of just being conscious of where I was at, at all times and switching a lot of stuff."
Curry wasn’t the only one having problems against Louisville’s defense.
Ryan Kelly spent most of the first half in foul trouble and finished with seven points. Quinn Cook took an early seat on the bench but rallied to score 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting, and Mason Plumlee was the only Duke player who looked like himself. The Indiana native finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds in his final college game.
Nothing went right for the Blue Devils, who shot just 36.5 percent from the field.
And the biggest reason might have been Louisville’s motivation to win this one for Ware.
"I don’t think any of us, with what we had to witness, could have overcome it if it wasn’t for Kevin Ware 12 times saying to the guys: `I’ll be fine, win the game,’" Pitino said. "And he kept saying it over and over and over. I had to get the guys all in."
The Cardinals responded by missing four of their next five shots before taking a 35-32 lead at the break.
At halftime, Pitino finally got everybody on the same page, and the Cardinals responded.
When Louisville made it 38-32 early in the second half, Duke rallied to tie it at 42 with 16:18 to play. The Cardinals answered with the next seven points.
"They just come at you for the whole game," Curry said. "I mean, they’re attacking you and putting pressure on you. You try not to put them on the line, the foul line. If you do that, they’re going by you. So they’re a great backcourt and it was a tough test today."
With Duke shooting so poorly, that was all the separation Louisville needed.
The Cardinals extended the lead to 59-44 with 9:39 left, and the Blue Devils never got closer than 13 again.
"I thought we had a chance there, and then boom, and that’s what they do to teams. They can boom you," Krzyzewski said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)