Mark Story: 'Quarterbacks' could control Cats-Cards outcome

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 30, 2012 

NEW ORLEANS — If the recruiting conventional wisdom had held, Marquis Teague and Peyton Siva would be playing together Saturday when Kentucky and Louisville conduct an intrastate hoops holy war disguised as a Final Four game.

As a hot-shot high school point guard in Indianapolis, Teague was long considered all but a lock to cast his lot with Louisville. Cards Coach Rick Pitino, after all, coached Teague's father, Shawn, at Boston University.

Even though he was U of L's incumbent point guard, Siva says he willingly played host to Teague when the latter visited as a recruit.

"I wanted Marquis Teague to come (to U of L)," Siva said. "It didn't bother me at all they were recruiting another point guard. I would have loved to play with him in the backcourt."

That was not to be. After a heated recruiting battle, Teague, cast his lot with John Calipari and Kentucky, not Pitino and Louisville.

So when UK and U of L meet in a Final Four game for the first time ever, Teague and Siva will be the rival "quarterbacks." It is not too strong to say that Saturday evening's outcome could ride on the performances of the opposing point guards.

For underdog Louisville to spring the upset, the Cardinals probably need to use their patented, full-court pressure to rattle the freshman Teague.

"Young guys tend to turn the ball over a lot," said U of L guard Chris Smith. "Pressure bursts pipes."

Favored Kentucky, conversely, almost certainly will advance past Louisville if it can stifle Siva's late-season surge. Will Calipari assign the 6-foot-2 Teague to guard the 6-foot Louisville point guard or go with the longer Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (6-7)?

"We'll probably both be guarding (Siva) at some point," Teague said, "but, yeah, I'm going to be guarding Peyton."

The roads that brought Siva and Teague to New Orleans as point-guard rivals have parallels.

Neither Siva nor Teague played well in Kentucky's 69-62 victory over Louisville on New Year's Eve.

Siva went a horrid 2-for-13 from the field and finished with eight points, four assists and three turnovers.

At the time, the Louisville guard was playing on a painful left ankle that had suffered a deep bone bruise in November. The lingering effects of that injury impacted Siva for months.

"He's a jet," Smith said of Siva. "Well, imagine a jet without a wing."

UK's Teague, in his first try against the school he spurned in recruiting, also struggled. He fouled out in 29 minutes after going 1-for-8 from the floor with four turnovers.

"Last time, the press kind of bothered us," Teague said of the 21 turnovers Kentucky committed in the first UK-U of L game. "It caused us to make a few silly turnovers that we don't need."

The overall seasons of Siva and Teague also mirrored each other.

Siva didn't really get his game in gear until the year was all but over and his ankle finally healed. "The last couple of games of the regular season, I started feeling a lot better," he said. "And then, in the Big East Tournament, I could really go."

Siva led Louisville to that tourney championship while averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 assists and earning Most Outstanding Player honors. In the NCAA Tournament, Siva has averaged 9.1 points and 7.0 assists (well above his 5.6 season assist rate).

The speed that has returned to his game has allowed U of L to generate some needed offense by playing at a quicker tempo.

Pitino has been so impressed, he gave the point guard his highest honor Thursday: He compared Siva to Billy Donovan, the star of Pitino's 1987 Providence Final Four team.

"Different backgrounds, but the exact same characteristics," Pitino said.

Teague's early-season inconsistencies owed primarily to inexperience and learning how to play point guard in the way the ever-demanding Calipari requires.

"It's very hard," Teague said of playing point for Cal.

Early in the season, Calipari said Teague was not playing hard defensively through complete possessions. Offensively, he was playing too fast and taking too many bad shots.

"That's what we worked on, those three things," Calipari said. "I think he's been great (late in the season), but it's been hard."

Teague has played his best basketball when it's mattered most, raising his scoring average by 4.5 points (from 10 ppg to 14.5) in the NCAA tourney and averaging 5.25 assists (to 2.75 turnovers) in the Big Dance.

"Just the way he changes speeds, I think (Teague) has really learned what kind of pace he wants our offense at," said UK forward Terrence Jones.

The biggest games so often come down to the play of "the quarterback." Both Siva and Teague need to play well Saturday, yet both also have reason to be wary of trying to do too much.

In his Louisville career, Siva has yet to play a good game against UK. In three matchups with the Cats, the Seattle product is 4-for-23 from the floor with a combined eight assists and seven turnovers.

Says Siva: "I've got to continue to do my job, just finding open guys, getting my teammates the ball and staying aggressive."

Teague has to tamp down any desire to try too hard against U of L and Pitino born from his recruiting snub of the Cards. The point guard said his dad called Pitino at the time of Teague's recruiting decision to let the coach know the choice would be Kentucky.

"I know (Pitino) was pretty upset," Teague said.

The two point guards who talked about playing college basketball together are now set to face off in the game that has the commonwealth in a tizzy.

So the outcome could easily be in their hands.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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