LOUISVILLE — Say this for the Louisville basketball team: They're giving the fans who shelled out their hard-earned bucks for seats at the KFC Yum Center their money's worth.
The Cardinals completed the second miraculous comeback at home in the past two weeks with a thrilling 55-54 win over West Virginia on Wednesday night.
Peyton Siva's driving layup with 4.5 seconds left proved to be the game-winner as the Cards (16-4, 5-2) erased the bad taste in their mouths left from a 72-67 road loss at Providence over the weekend.
It wasn't quite as dramatic as the 71-70 win over Marquette on Jan.15 when U of L erased an 18-point deficit. But the Cards still had to battle back from an 11-point halftime deficit and trailed 54-53 after Kevin Jones' jump-hook in the paint with 41 seconds left.
With the clock winding down, Siva drove the lane, ducked in between the 6-8 Jones and 6-7 John Flowers and scooped in a shot that ricocheted high off the glass before falling through.
"I just kind of flicked it up there and fell down," said Siva, who finished with 14 points on a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor. "I saw it go in the net and heard the fans cheering, so I knew I had to run back on defense."
The best look West Virginia could come up with was a hurried three by Dalton Pepper at the horn that wasn't even close.
"We've had some great comebacks," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. "We're the cardiac kids without question. We've showed great heart and character."
The first half saw West Virginia guard Joe Mazzulla flash back to his Elite Eight performance against Kentucky last year when he sliced and diced his way to a career-high 17 points in earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the East Regional.
Mazzula was even better against the Cards. He was averaging just 4.3 points and shooting 1-of-13 on three-pointers coming into the game yet sank two from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes. His first one gave WVU its first lead of the game at 16-14, and the second pushed the lead to double digits (34-24) with 2:34 in the first half. The Mountaineers led 37-26 at the break with Mazzulla's 18 points leading the way.
West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins said he encouraged Mazzula to look for his offense, and Pitino admitted Mazzulla's scoring eruption caught him off guard.
"He was shooting what, 14 percent on threes coming into the game?" Huggins said. "I told him they probably don't think you'll make one."
But Mazzulla was practically invisible in the second half, as he got off only two second-half shots and missed them both.
"We were concentrating on stopping other people," Pitino said of Mazzulla's performance. "Not that we don't respect Mazzulla. We do. But that was the highest point total of his career. We knew where he was in the second half."
The second half was rough-and-tumble Big East basketball. Both teams shot under 40 percent for the game (Louisville 37.5, West Virginia 34.5). U of L's two big men both went down in the second half with injuries: Gorgui Dieng a concussion and Terrence Jennings a sprained knee.
But after being overpowered physically in the first half, Louisville held its own in the final 20 minutes.
Jennings was big on the boards before he went down, grabbing five offensive rebounds and nine overall, and backup point guard Russ Smith provided a big boost off the bench. Throw in the fact that West Virginia couldn't hit the side of a barn in the second half, going just 4-for-22 (18.2 percent), and the recipe for a comeback was complete.
"We knew it was going to be a street fight," Pitino said.
Jones' jumper gave WVU a 42-31 lead with 15:10 left. The Mountaineers would then go nearly 14 minutes without a field goal, as Louisville went on 20-3 run to take a 51-45 lead.
"In the NCAA Tournament you're going to have that one night where you don't shoot well, but if you rebound and play defense you move on," Pitino said. "And we told the guys, when you play West Virginia and Pittsburgh, the chances of you shooting well are not great. But in the second half we rebounded great and played great defense."
West Virginia had just eight scholarship players and played without leading scorer Casey Mitchell (suspension), but Huggins refused to use fatigue as an excuse.
"We were fine; I thought we'd at least make a shot," Huggins said. "We had great shots. We just didn't make any."
Pepper's three-pointer at 1:30 ended the drought and brought the Mountaineers to within 53-52, and Jones' jumper gave WVU a brief lead before Siva's game-winner.
Now Louisville (16-4, 5-2) sits in a tie for second place in the wild and wacky Big East. In the past week we've seen Providence, losers of 17 straight, knock off both Louisville and Villanova; Seton Hall win by 22 at Syracuse, and Notre Dame win at Pittsburgh.