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The Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team’s second consecutive trip to the Final Four and potential to snag a third national title had fans in Elizabethtown flaunting their Cardinal pride Saturday evening as the team took the court in Atlanta against the Wichita State Shockers.
After Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury during the Elite Eight game against the Duke Blue Devils, the team and its fan base mobilized in an emotional show of support. Local fans expressed a desire to win it for Ware.
“It’s a great time to be a Louisville fan,” said Lucas White, an Elizabethtown resident who was taking in the game at the Heartland Golf Club & Sports Pub.
“I wouldn’t want to be a fan of anything else,” chimed in John Underwood.
The two men, lifelong Louisville fans, also acknowledged the Louisville women’s basketball team notching its own Final Four berth during the same year the football team took down the Florida Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
“We dominate every sport, hands down,” Underwood said.
Underwood gave credit to Wichita State — a Cinderella No. 9 seed that knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga and the No. 2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes en route to its Final Four run — for its giant-killing status but believed the team’s luck would run out against Louisville’s pressure defense.
“I just don’t think they can hang with us,” he said.
Both Underwood and White were looking ahead to Monday night’s championship game and the possibility of facing the Michigan Wolverines if Louisville proved victorious and Michigan ousted the Syracuse Orange.
“I want to see Michigan Monday,” White said. “I think that would be a good championship.”
Elizabethtown resident Ryan Ray was riling fans up before tip-off and donned a Louisville shirt before the first shot fell. A fan all his life, Ray said he played baseball at Western Kentucky University but his heart remains with Louisville.
He hoped Louisville could capitalize on its momentum this season by capturing its first national championship since 1986 — the year of Ray’s birth. Ray said he believes Ware’s injury has inspired brotherhood within the team and will propel them forward.
The game started on a low note for Cardinals fans as Wichita State took an 8-0 lead after a series of missed buckets and turnovers.
Across town at Beef O’Brady’s on North Miles Street, fans were waiting for a breakout moment as Louisville clawed back into the game to take a one-point lead.
Elizabethtown resident Joe Howe exuded confidence as he watched the game on several flat screen televisions inside the restaurant.
“We’re off to a slow start,” Howe said. “But we’re good; we’re not scared.”
Howe believed Louisville had the athletic prowess and defense to wear down Wichita State late.
“Whoever has the best legs is going to win the game,” he said.
Howe said Louisville’s success across several sports is a feather in the university’s cap and a championship this year would be noteworthy with the dissolution of the Big East conference.
Elizabethtown resident Samantha Martin was sweating the close score — expecting a tough game but hoping to see Wichita State wear down under the pressure.
“Hopefully this can be their year,” she said of the Cardinals.
Martin said Louisville’s back-to-back Final Four appearances are an accomplishment for the state. Many of her friends who count themselves Kentucky Wildcats fans have put the rivalry aside and put their support behind Louisville’s run, she said.
“We’re all coming together as a state,” she said.
Bob Smallwood of Elizabethtown sported UK apparel but was rooting the Cardinals toward victory. He counts himself a UK fan first and Kentucky fan second, whether it is Louisville, WKU or Morehead State.
Smallwood said he would like to see a Louisville championship to keep the national title in the state for another year. He also expressed loyalty toward Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who led UK to a national title in 1996.
“You’ve got to be a Rick Pitino fan if you’re about UK,” he said.
Marty Finleycan be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.