March 9, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng added another major achievement to their impressive legacy at Louisville.
Siva and Dieng, who helped the Cardinals win the BIG EAST tournament and advance to the Final Four last season, played key roles Saturday in a 73-57 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame that gave Louisville a share of the regular-season conference title.
Dieng had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, and Siva posted 13 points and five assists in his final home game for the Cardinals (26-5, 14-4 BIG EAST), who finished tied for first place with Georgetown and Marquette.
Louisville receives a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals at the BIG EAST tournament, where coach Rick Pitino’s team will defend its 2012 championship.
Dieng and Siva were honored before the game as part of Louisville’s senior day festivities. Dieng, a junior center from Senegal, is expected to enter the NBA draft after the season.
Siva’s brother and sister drove for two days from Seattle, joining more than 30 family members on hand for the celebration. Siva’s father, a regular at Louisville games, kneeled at midcourt and kissed the Cardinals logo following the pregame ceremony.
“It really was a storybook ending for the two guys playing tonight,” Pitino said.
Siva’s family inundated him and his teammates with candy-filled leis following the game, a nod to their Samoan heritage. He called the gathering, many watching him in person at Louisville for the first time, his favorite moment ever.
“They kept covering me with these leis and I kept telling them I can’t see or breathe,” Siva said. “It’s part of our tradition – they did it my senior night in high school. My teammates stole all of them and ate all the candy already. Hopefully they don’t have a stomach ache tomorrow.”
Siva ranks second in school history in assists (631) and is five steals shy of breaking the Louisville record. Pitino couldn’t introduce his point guard before the game, only mentioning his name to avoid emotions overtaking him.
After the win he called Siva “the most unbelievable young man to ever put on our uniform.”
When Louisville played at Notre Dame a month ago it took five overtimes before the Fighting Irish won 104-101 in the longest regular-season game in BIG EAST history.
In fact, five of the last six and six of the past eight matchups between the schools went to overtime before Louisville took charge on Saturday.
Pitino set a goal for his team to close the season with seven straight wins following the Notre Dame marathon. His team completed the task Saturday and will face the winner of the St. John’s-Villanova game on Thursday in the BIG EAST quarterfinals.
Garrick Sherman led Notre Dame (23-8, 11-7) with 14 points. The Fighting Irish will play Wednesday in the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Louisville shot 67 percent (16 of 24) for its best first half of the season.
“We kind of ran into a buzz saw today,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
The Irish held the Cardinals without a field goal for nearly six minutes early in the second half to cut the lead to 45-40 on Pat Connaughton’s 3-pointer with 12:42 left. That was as close as Notre Dame got. Dieng’s turnaround jumper on the baseline with 10:33 left gave Louisville a 49-41 lead and started a 10-2 run.
Siva’s third 3 of the game with 2:26 left and alley-oop layup on the next possession sealed the win.
Louisville never trailed and led by as many as six throughout most of the first half before Siva helped break the game open. His two 3-pointers, with an alley-oop assist to Chane Behanan in between, gave the Cardinals a 30-21 lead at the 6:14 mark.
Kevin Ware followed with a steal and layup that put Louisville up by 11, its largest advantage of the half. Siva’s floater in the lane with 51 seconds to go gave the Cardinals their 37-27 lead at the break.
Notre Dame had held three of its previous four opponents under 50 points, but Louisville’s strong first half ended any chance of repeating that defensive effort.
Irish guard Jerian Grant, whose 12-point flurry in the final 45 seconds of regulation sent the first matchup to overtime, was held to eight points after scoring 21 in each of his last two games.
Louisville earned its second BIG EAST regular-season title since joining the conference in 2005. The Cardinals also won in 2008-09.