Indianapolis, IN – It took 21 years, but Rick Pitino finally got his revenge against Duke.
Russ Smith scored 23 points and helped trigger a pivotal second-half run that vaulted Louisville into its second straight Final Four, with the Cardinals pulling away for an 85-63 triumph over the Blue Devils in the first NCAA Tournament showdown between Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski since Duke's unforgettable overtime win over Pitino's Kentucky squad in the 1992 Elite Eight.
Unlike Christian Laettner's famed last-second shot that gave the Blue Devils a 104-103 decision over Pitino's Wildcats in Philadelphia more than two decades ago, there was no such drama after Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva led the Cardinals on a 20-4 tear that turned a tie game into a 16-point differential Duke never came close to overcoming.
Siva netted 10 of his 16 points after halftime, while Dieng put up eight of his 14 points during Louisville's game-deciding stretch in addition to grabbing 11 rebounds.
Motivated by a gruesome broken leg that backup point guard Kevin Ware sustained in the first half, the Cardinals (33-5) tallied 50 points on 59.3 percent shooting during the second to advance to the Final Four in back-to-back years for the first time since 1982-83.
"Basically, the bone popped out of the skin. It broke in two spots," Pitino said. "Remember the bone is six inches out of his leg, and all he's yelling is 'Win the game, win the game.' I've never seen anything like that."
Louisville, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, will next take on surprising Wichita State in Atlanta in Saturday's National Semifinal.
"I don't think we could have gathered ourselves -- I know I couldn't have -- if Kevin (Ware) didn't say over and over again, 'Just go win the game," Pitino said. "I don't think we could have gone in the locker room with a loss after seeing that. We had to gather ourselves. We couldn't lose this game for him."
Duke (30-6), on the other hand, went an off-target 9-of-28 from the field after intermission in the loss, only the Blue Devils' second in 13 Elite Eight appearances under Krzyzewski.
"We tried to match them, and we couldn't match them," said Krzyzewski. "And they wear you down. Their two guards just set an amazing pace. Siva, I don't know if he -- [it] didn't look like he was even sweating today. He just was so smooth. And then Smith is terrific."
Mason Plumlee did hit on 6-of-9 shots in a 17-point, 12-rebound effort for the second-seeded Blue Devils, with Seth Curry and Quinn Cook each finishing with 12 points.
For a time, the game showed the potential to become another Elite Eight classic between Pitino and Krzyzewski, with the teams battling tooth-and-nail all throughout the first half and the score tied at 42-42 four minutes into the second.
The Cardinals dominated from there on, however.
Smith drove the lane for a 3-point play and Siva scored on Louisville's next two possessions to quickly bring the margin to seven, and the Cardinals held Duke without a field goal for more than eight minutes while breaking the contest completely open.
Dieng, the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year who produced four blocks along with his 11 boards, then made an impact on the offensive end as well. The intimidating center dropped in eight points during a critical 10-0 sequence that put Louisville fully in control, with the spurt staking the Cards to a comfortable 59-44 lead just past the midway mark of the second half.
"We missed a couple inside, and they just kept scoring," said Krzyzewski. "When you're not-- when you don't score, you have to prevent them from scoring, or else these games get away from you. We weren't able -- our defense was not able to do that.
Cook finally ended a string of 10 straight Duke misses from the field on a transition layup with 8:06 to go, right after a Luke Hancock trey put Louisville ahead by a 62-46 count.
The Blue Devils never broke out of their offensive funk over the duration of the game, with the Cardinals in front by at least 14 points right up until the final buzzer.
Neither team gained much of an advantage during a tightly played first half in which the largest lead was four points, but the injury to Ware overshadowed the performance put forth by the two sides.
While leaping to attempt to block a 3-point try by the Blue Devils' Tyler Thornton with 6:33 remaining in the opening period, the sophomore reserve's leg bent awkwardly as he landed in front of the Louisville bench. He remained down on the court for several minutes before eventually being taken to the locker room on a stretcher.
The Cardinals appeared initially shaken as play resumed following a delay of nearly 10 minutes. Though Smith scored the first basket after the stoppage to give Louisville a 23-20 edge, Plumlee and Josh Hairston each converted 3-point plays to put Duke on top entering the last four minutes of the half.
Louisville responded with a 6-2 flurry, however, and eventually went into the break owning a 35-32 lead after Smith and Wayne Blackshear combined to make four foul shots in the final 40 seconds.
Smith's three consecutive free throws after being fouled from beyond the arc to begin the second half pushed the Cardinals' margin to six, but Duke drew even shortly afterward on a trey from Curry followed by a Plumlee dunk that knotted the score at 42-42 with 16 minutes left.
Pitino and Krzyzewski had not faced one another since the 1992 East Regional Final until earlier this season, when the Blue Devils earned a 76-71 win over Louisville in November's Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas ... The Cardinals will be making the ninth Final Four appearance in program history, while Pitino will be taking a team there for the seventh time as a head coach (three with Louisville, three with Kentucky, one with Providence) ... Krzyzewski's only previous loss in Elite 8 matchups occurred in 1998, an 86-84 setback to Kentucky ... The only prior meeting between the two storied programs took place in the 1986 National Championship Game, a 72-69 Louisville win in Dallas exactly 27 years ago... The Cardinals improved to 9-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament games held in Indianapolis ... Before Sunday's tilt, Duke had been seeded higher than its opponent in 32 straight NCAA tourney games. The last time the Blue Devils were a lower seed was 2003, when third-seeded Duke lost to No. 2 Kansas in the Sweet 16.