Post-game video: Siva breaks records, now looks to bust Syracuse slump - click here
NEW YORK (WDRB) -- University of Louisville basketball fans, you can address thank you cards and letters for this Big East Tournament appearance -- the Cards' third straight and fourth in five years -- to Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.
The diminutive backcourt plays as big as any in America if you take both ends of the court into account. In turning away Notre Dame 69-57 in Friday night's last-of-its-kind Big East quarterfinal, Siva matched a tournament record with seven steals. The two combined for 32 points, 12 assists and eight steals.
Or, from a percentage standpoint, scored 46 percent of the team's points, indirectly led to another 30 percent with passing, and matched Notre Dame's team assist total while doubling its steal total all by themselves.
On a second straight night when U of L's interior players couldn't get it going offensively, Siva and Smith for a key stretch of the second half took the offense completely into their hands, either driving for baskets, creating for a couple of layups or finding Luke Hancock, who once again came up big, with 3-for-3 three-point shooting.
"In Siva and Smith," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said, ". . . it's an unbelievable workout just to bring the ball up the court. . . . They exhaust you."
Siva took a hard shot to his right calf early in the game. Russ Smith turned an ankle in Thursday night's win over Villanova. Neither appeared to slow a bit.
"Coach said there was nothing wrong with it, so I guess there's nothing wrong with it," Siva said.
Siva set the tone early with two more falling-down-three pointers, and a flurry of early steals that not only gave U of L the lead, but pushed Siva past Darrell Griffith as U of L's all-time steals leader.
Smith, meanwhile, bided his time. Notre Dame has done a good job containing him, and he said he tried to be patient.
"The last 10 games, I'm really focused on the scouting report and trying to do what the team needs me to do," said Smith, who finished with 20 points. "I don't always get it right. But I'm really just thinking about passing and defense, and then my points just come."
They came in bunches in the second half, when Smith scored 14 of his game-high 20. Some free throws late pushed him past Wes Unseld for the school's single-season record for made free throws.
"We did a lot of great things," Pitino said. "Made them shoot a low percentage in the second half. . . . It wasn't a great performance, but it was a very good performance to get us to the finals."
Siva had seven steals, but his overall defensive game may have been better than that. He continually made up for missed assignments or saved teammates who had gone to pressure the ball.
"He kept bailing us out one rotation after another," Pitino said. "I sometimes don't give him too much of a break because I have so much confidence in him in every phase of the game. Once in awhile, he wants to catch a break and wants Russ to get it up, and I'm all over him saying, 'Are you going to be point guard or not?' He's trying to cop a blow for one second and I won't even let him do it. That's how much of an ass I am."
For the tournament, the Cards are shooting 17 of 38 from three-point range, 44.8 percent. They've needed it, with inside players struggling offensively. That they've gotten into the tournament final on the strength of it is another nod to the team's versatility.
"We're just doing what we have to do to win right now," Smith said. "Everybody's working hard. I think we're doing a lot of good things on defense, but there's a lot more we can do on offense. But it's tournament time. All you want is to play tomorrow. And tomorrow is a big day."
Yes it is. The Cardinals, by virtue of Georgetown's overtime loss to Syracuse, likely have a No. 1 seed in hand. And they're unlikely to knock Indiana out of its No. 1 slot in Indianapolis, given that the Hoosiers were regular-season champions of the Big Ten and have more top 10 and 20 wins than any team.
This one, then, will be for pride, between a traditional Big East power in Syracuse, and a relative newcomer that has played for the tourney title in four of its eight years in the league. And it'll be about two coaches who have been with the league from the beginning, first on the same staff, then as friends and rivals.
"It's very exciting to be in the final in this last year," Pitino said. "And we're excited for Jim that his team has it going and that they're going to be in it."
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