LOUISVILLE — Rick Pitino calls Saturday's game against Notre Dame the most important home contest of his coaching tenure at Louisville.
The coach said he feels that way because the season finale against the No. 24 Irish (23-7, 11-6 Big East) is a rematch of the Cardinals' 104-101, five-overtime thrilling loss to Notre Dame last month. A win would give No. 8 Louisville (25-5, 13-4) at least a share of the Big East title and a successful home sendoff for senior point guard Peyton Siva and center Gorgui Dieng — a duo Pitino said is "as special as any two players I've ever coached."
Siva and Dieng, a junior, will participate in Senior Day festivities along with Mike Marra, whose playing career ended before the season due to a left knee injury.
"All Senior Days are special but these two young men, they epitomize what you would want in a student athlete in all regards," Pitino said of Siva and Dieng.
Louisville is 100-38 the past four seasons and reached the Final Four last year. But when Pitino speaks of Siva and Dieng, it's not the game day accolades he thinks of first.
The pair steps onto the practice court every day with the same enthusiasm they had on their first days on campus, Pitino said. He praised their "naïve innocence" about life.
"In today's world of egotistical, selfish athletes that come along, here you have the polar opposites," Pitino said. "They're just unique for this day and age where ego is very much part of the culture."
Siva is just the school's second player ever to earn Academic All-America honors (second team). Dieng, who came to the U.S. from Senegal knowing little English besides "Hello," speaks five languages.
Pitino thinks so highly of both that he named thoroughbreds after them.
Siva has started every game the past three seasons, is second all-time in assists (626) and sits just five steals (225) behind Louisville career leader Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith.
Dieng set the single-season school record for blocks (128) last year and is averaging nearly 10 points and 10 rebounds a game this year.
Siva, who was named last year's Big East Tournament MVP and pre-season player of the year for 2012-13, said the Louisville faithful "really took me in like I was one of their own."
Dieng said his ultimate career goal is not just making the NBA but staying in the league 10-15 years. First, Dieng is focused on fulfilling some collegiate dreams.
"I have a lot of goals that I have to reach before we talk about NBA," said Dieng, who will not hire an agent and could return if he's not projected as a first-round selection.
Western Kentucky 74, Louisiana-Monroe 60: T.J. Price scored 18 points and Western Kentucky never trailed in beating Louisiana-Monroe in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark.
George Fant scored 12 on 6-of-6 shooting for the Hilltoppers (17-15), who are the sixth seed in the tournament. They meet No. 3 seed South Alabama in Saturday's quarterfinals.
Ten players scored for Western Kentucky, which shot 69 percent in the first half.
Kyle Koszuta led Louisiana-Monroe (4-23) with 15 points.
Western Kentucky is the defending Sun Belt tournament champion, having won as the No. 7 seed last season.
Kentucky Wesleyan 64, Indianapolis 63: Lauren Goffinet hit two free throws with 24 seconds left as Kentucky Wesleyan (20-8) rallied for a comeback victory in the Great Lakes Valley Championship Tournament quarterfinals in Evansville, Ind.
Kentucky Wesleyan fell behind 23-6 and tied the game at 38 on a buzzer beater at the end of the first half.
WC will play Maryville at 7 p.m. Saturday.