Peyton Siva finished his college journey by leading Louisville past Michigan to the NCAA title.
ATLANTA – You don't have to stuff the NBA Draft board to win a national championship. There are other ways to finish the difficult job. The University of Louisville has now proven that. They did it by defeating Michigan, 82-76, in the Georgia Dome Monday night.
They did it with seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. They did it with McDonald's all-Americans, transfers and walk-ons. They did it with tiny guards, medium-sized forwards and assorted guys that even Rick Pitino wasn't certain could play. They did it with several others who know how it feels to be flattened in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we identify what college basketball is all about," said Peyton Siva, Louisville's senior point guard. "It just shows that college basketball is about more than one-and-dones. It's a family."
"We have different people from different backgrounds and everybody just really came together. For everybody to really bond like this how we are, we really have a family. It's truly a blessing to see everybody go out there and be successful."
You can do it with a Most Outstanding Player whose only playing opportunities after his senior year in high school were from Division III schools. His name is Luke Hancock. His name now belongs in the same sentence with Darrell Griffith (1980) and Pervis Ellison (1986) as a Louisville Legend who delivered a national title.
Hancock scored 22 points off the bench – and then hugged the national championship trophy the way he hugged his ailing 70-year-old father, Bill.
That's more points than any substitute has scored in the championship game in 49 years. Hancock took five three-point shots – and he made five three-point shots. Kemba Walker didn't do that. Derrick Rose didn't do that. Nobody had done that in the title game.
Luke Hancock shot the ball when Rick Pitino needed him to shoot the ball, making four consecutive threes late in the first half to erase nearly every inch of a 12-point, first-half Michigan lead.
"I'm just blessed to be in this situation," Hancock said. "I'm just so happy for our team. I'm happy that multiple guys got to contribute on this great run. Everybody from Tim Henderson on. I'm so happy for these guys."
His body language screamed that joy. Nobody held the championship trophy as tightly as Hancock did.
You can do it with a center who came to town as a consolation prize after the big man that you really wanted snubbed you at the last minute. His name is Gorgui Dieng.
He scored eight points with eight rebounds and six amazing assists. Dieng made life uncomfortable for Mitch McGary, the Michigan center. The Wolverines were expecting McGary to score 15-to-20 points. He scored six. There were times when you wondered if McGary was actually on the floor.
You can do it with a power forward who started the season by leading the team in immaturity and then finished it by leading the team in grit. His name is Chane Behanan.
When the season started, Behanan was given a seat not far from Rick Pitino – and a muzzle. He wasn't allowed to say a word to the media, and nobody loved talking more than Chane Behanan. Against Michigan, Behanan didn't have to say a word. His bruising shoulders did all the talking as he buried the Wolverines with 15 points and a dozen rebounds. Chane Behanan played like the nastiest guy on the floor.
"He's developed as a player, but as a person, too," Hancock said. "Chane is one of our leaders out there. He showed it tonight. He said he was going to take care of the boards. That's what he did. He stepped up and was a leader."
You can do it with a senior point guard who just finished his fourth season after the world obsessed over why he wasn't off to the NBA after his freshman or sophomore years. His name is Peyton Siva.
Siva found himself in a street-fight against Trey Burke, the Michigan point guard declared the consensus national player of the year. All that did was inspire Peyton Siva to match Burke twist for twist, spin for spin and big shot for big shot. Russ Smith wasn't making shots the way he normally makes shots, missing 13 of 16. Siva took care of that.
There was Siva delivering 14 of his 18 points in the second half, including 10 of the 13 points the Cardinals scored while spurting to a 69-64 lead.
There was Siva, again, splashing in the final two free throws with 12.9 seconds to play, the points that ensured there would be no Michigan miracle. Siva did it even though he said that both of his legs felt dead after he took a knee to one thigh.
Siva said he told Pitino in the second half that he needed to rest. He was serious. This is what Pitino told Siva: KEEP PUSHING.
Siva kept pushing, making plays the way a senior is supposed to make plays. When the game was over, Siva scrambled across the court, celebrating as intensely as he defends the paint. Siva finished the game collecting souvenirs of his journey – the purple tie off the neck of CBS announcer Jim Nantz, a piece of the nets that he tied to his championship baseball cap and the NCAA trophy that he carried away with Hancock.
"It's just amazing," Siva said. "I still don't believe it."
Believe it. This team with seniors and freshmen, five-stars and walk-ons, made it happen.