Rick Pitino credits Peyton Siva with keeping Cards pointing in right direction

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMarch 19, 2013 

  • Open practice in Rupp

    Louisville basketball will conduct an open practice from 4:25 p.m. to 5:05 p.m. on Wednesday in Rupp Arena. Admission is free.
  • NCAA TOURNAMENT

    Louisville vs. Wichita State/Kentucky winner

    When: TBA
    Where: Indianapolis
    Radio: WMKJ-FM 105.5 Lexington
    TV: TBA
    Records: Louisville 31-5 (15-3 AAC)

LOUISVILLE — Stop the presses.

Rick Pitino called the media "brilliant" Tuesday.

Because it was the media who voted Louisville senior Peyton Siva as the Most Outstanding Player of last weekend's Big East Tournament.

Pitino wholeheartedly agreed with the choice, but thought the media choice would have been U of L's Russ Smith in a runaway.

While Smith put up 28 points against Villanova in the semifinals and averaged 19.4 points over three games, Siva did more.

"He dominated the tournament at the defensive end and ran his team to success," Pitino said Tuesday. "They (the media) were brilliant. Because you know the reason we won the thing — it was Peyton Siva who dominated the game at the defensive end. You very rarely see a point guard just in every crucial situation rotate for a steal and make the big play, and then he ran the team."

Siva became only the second player in Big East history to win the award twice, joining Georgetown legend Patrick Ewing.

U of L's career leader in steals and No. 2 in assists, Siva is a big reason the Cardinals (29-5) are the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Cards open tourney play Thursday in Rupp Arena, against either Liberty or North Carolina A&T.

"I pretty much had success the last three years in March, so hopefully we can continue to get this rolling," said Siva, who helped U of L to the Final Four last year.

U of L has smothered opponents with defense, forcing an average of 18.7 turnovers. The Cardinals have double-digit steal totals in 26 of 34 games, and rank second nationally in turnover margin (plus-6) and steals (10.7). Of Louisville's 2,501 points scored, 778 (31 percent) have come off turnovers.

And it's been a team effort.

"It's not just the starting five. It's Luke (Hancock), Kevin (Ware), Montrezl (Harrell), VT (Stephan Van Treese). Everybody's giving us a big contribution off the bench," Siva said.

Just as the bench stepped up in the Big East, it will need to do the same in the NCAA, Siva said.

"I think they've really bought in to what 'Coach P' has been preaching, that we have to go win the defensive end first," Siva said. "Offense, don't even worry about it. Just go out and play."

No. 1 seed or not, Siva thinks his team will be ready Thursday.

"You saw throughout the whole year that anybody on any given night can get upset," Siva said. "Especially in the tournament. If you lose, there's no next game to redeem yourself. You're out of the tournament. So we just have to take it one game at a time, continue to stay focused and continue to block everything out.

"That's been the message from 'Coach P,' is just to block everything out and just continue to stay within ourselves, stay within our team and just continue to listen to him."

Said Pitino: "I think they're humble enough to realize that they can get beat on any given night. I think they feel they're good enough to go far. But there's teams that stand in our path that are outstanding, that are very capable of beating us. So we have to execute at both ends. I don't think we think of being (seeded) 1, 2, 3 or 4. We just think of executing."

Notes

Playing in Lexington is a far cry from Louisville's path to last year's Final Four.

"We look forward to playing there. Last year we got away from everybody and we played in Oregon and Arizona, and a lot of our fans didn't get the chance to travel with us," Siva said. "So playing at Rupp Arena, with our fans, it's easier for them to come and watch the games. It will be very exciting to see them there but we know we have to handle business whether the fans are there or not. We've got to go out and play our game."

■ Thursday will be yet another hyped return for Pitino to the school he once coached.

He expects plenty of backing from U of L fans. But even when the foe is UK, he says he is treated well.

"I've been back to Lexington many, many times. People treat me great," Pitino said. "I would say out of all the places that I've been on the road, I get the best support in Lexington of any place I travel. Much better than any place. So they've treated me great.

"Now, do they want to beat the brains out of Louisville? No question about it, and they should feel that way. But the people in Lexington treat me great. There's always a very small minority of any group that's not going to welcome you. But I get treated great in Lexington whenever I go back, so I'm very appreciative of that."

■ Pitino said the Cards will commute from Louisville to Lexington rather than stay in a hotel. Light-heartedly, he added: "We're going to fly, though."

■ Pitino had another laugh, taking a dig at Digger Phelps. The comment came after it was noted most experts are picking the Cards to win it all.

"I hope they're right," Pitino said. "All you have to do is go away from Digger and you've got a great chance of winning. He's never right."

But Phelps never seems to pick the Cards. "That's why we keep winning," Pitino said with a laugh. "Why do we have a great shot? That man knows nothing."


Louisville vs. N.C. A&T

What: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional second-round game

When: 6:50 p.m. Thursday

Where: Rupp Arena

TV: TBS

Records: Louisville 29-5; N.C. A&T 20-16

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229 Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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