Even the defense of Russ Smith couldn't help U of L avoid a 70-68 loss to Syracuse Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Pick the University of Louisville player that you want handling the basketball when it's winning time. There is no debate. That guy is Peyton Siva.
Siva is the guy least likely to do something silly. He's the one who has erased most of the errors he's made over his first three seasons. He's the guy unafraid to make a play. Siva is the senior. He gets the ball.
Siva was not afraid to make a play in the final 30 seconds against Syracuse Saturday. But he did something silly. He tried to throw a cross-court pass (strike one) to Wayne Blackshear over a defender who is six inches taller (strike two) when there were still 10 seconds on the shot clock (strike three).
The next thing you knew there was a new Number One team in the country, and Cardinal fans like Sen. Mitch McConnell were walking out of the KFC Yum! Center shaking their heads and saying, "Tough loss."
Michael Carter-Williams, the Syracuse player who is 6 feet 6, intercepted Siva's pass and took off like Terrell Floyd for the end zone. He dunked his prize to put Syracuse ahead, 69-68.
Louisville did not score again – and they had a pair of chances. The Cards lost, 70-68, leaving Syracuse atop the Big East with a 5-0 record.
"Once I passed it, I wished I could have gotten it back," Siva said. "I saw Wayne out of the corner of my eye when I came off the screen. I should have made the correct pass and should have held on to it a little longer, try to pivot and find somebody else or keep my dribble alive."
No excuses, Siva said. None.
"You've got to learn from it," Siva said. "Try to get better from it. Try not to make the same mistake again."
Pick the Cardinal player you want handling a blunder of that significance. There is no debate. That guy is Siva.
He's the guy least likely to let the play leave a bruise that will linger. He will accept responsibility and fix what went wrong. He won't be afraid to try to make the next play. Remember the way he played last March?
"If I could put Peyton in that situation again, I would, and I'd bet that he would be successful," U of L forward Luke Hancock said. "He's the best point guard in the country. I don't think this is going to hurt him or anything like that."
That play, the fundamentally flawed pass by Siva, punctuated by the steal and dunk by Carter-Williams, will remain the Sports Center highlight from this game, which left the Cards (16-2) with their first defeat in five Big East games. It is the first clip that runs on the ESPN.com video player. On Sports Center they highlighted Siva's matchup with Carter-Williams. It's the jarring memory everybody will debate until Louisville plays at Villanova Tuesday.
But one possession did not cost Louisville the top ranking. Eleven possessions did.
With less than eight minutes to play, Russ Smith stripped Carter-Williams (his eighth turnover), rushed downcourt and dunked. Louisville led, 62-57. You wondered if the Orange were about to crack.
This is what Louisville generated from its final 11 possessions – not much.
One basket. Four free throws.
"We were rattled," U of L forward Chane Behanan said. "We weren't playing like we play. We didn't keep our composure. We've been through a lot of games like that through the last year. We should have kept our composure."
Evidence of the lack of composure: The Cards missed nine shots. They missed three free throws. They lost the ball three times, including the game's final play when Gorgui Dieng bobbled a pass from Siva in the lane, a play that should have resulted in a layup or two free throws.
It was the final bungled play in a half that saw the Cards miss 22 of 31 shots (29 percent) and five of 14 free throws (64 percent). That is not the way you beat Syracuse.
The 2013 offense down the stretch looked like the 2012 offense. It was that kind of day for Siva and Dieng. Siva missed eight of nine field-goal attempts. Dieng made one of five. The Cards got seven points from two guys that average a combined 21.
"At first, I was really down about it," Siva said. "It's a game. It cost us the Number One ranking. But my teammates came up to me and told me to keep my head up.
"It's over. It's behind us. Bygones be bygones. Let's focus on Villanova. We can make another run. We won 11 straight before. Why not do it again?"