Siva caps stellar Senior Day as Louisville keeps rolling
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The most junior member of Peyton Siva's Senior Day armada took the adulation of 22,000 attendees lying down. Lying down with head flung back, eyes shut and lips closed around a binky. His uncle walked past a line of teammates trying to contain himself, an at-attention crowd that rattled some roof tiles, and two-month-old Camden snoozed through it all, floating along like everyone else.
"He's just like the most perfect baby," Peyton Siva said of his nephew, as the Louisville guard sat in his locker stall hours later Saturday. "He hasn't cried since he's been here. He cracks up every time I see him. It's just amazing to finally get to hold him."
He was the only human Saturday to sleep on the Cardinals. There would be no five-overtime absurdity up on Notre Dame's visit to the KFC Yum! Center, just a suffocating crowd and an asphyxiating defense and a 73-57 win to earn a share of the Big East regular season title. And here comes Louisville again, winners of seven straight and 10 of 11 overall, heading into the conference tournament it won a year ago to inject fuel into a Final Four run.
That is for next week, though. Saturday was for a family circus. After the win, it seemed reasonable to estimate that every living member of the Siva clan hustled back and forth in the tunnel leading to the floor, carrying armfuls of red, black and white leis. Officially, it was about 30 or 40 relatives in town to celebrate the rabid, pugnacious soul of the Cardinals. Some flew seven-plus hours for it. Siva's brother and sister drove in. From Seattle.
"Just seeing my family," Siva said, "that's probably my favorite moment, ever."
It would rank among the favorites of the man who was a surrogate father to Siva in his four years. After welcoming the fans to "another championship afternoon" 15 minutes before the game actually started, Rick Pitino held a card in his hands as he ran through the standard Senior Day introductions, starting with managers and then moving on to Louisville's three player honorees: Mike Marra, Gorgui Dieng and Siva.
When it came time to introduce his point guard, Pitino looked at the card, then stopped himself. He simply said Siva's name, because he wasn't sure he could say anything else.
"I had a story made up to talk about Peyton, a huge story, but I couldn't tell it," Pitino said. "Because everybody started mentioning his name, and I got very emotional, because it's been so much fun coaching a person that has never had a bad day. I didn't always go pat him on the back and tell him what a great kid he was. I got after his ass quite often, but never one time would he come to work with nothing but a great attitude. I just have never seen the likes of that in my lifetime."
As for the abbreviated intro, fittingly, the point guard agreed with the coach's call. "I was glad he didn't make a speech, because I saw him almost get teary, and he almost made me teary-eyed," Siva said. "He's been like a Dad to me, and I've been like a son to him. I babysit his kids, and his grandkids. I've been a part of their family for the last four years. It feels like we're almost moving on."
But not just yet, as evidence plainly shows. Louisville is rolling, its feral defense holding six of seven opponents during the current win streak to less than 60 points while averaging 19.1 points off turnovers per game. Against Notre Dame, the Cardinals laid siege to the Irish's backcourt of Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, who managed only 17 combined points on 5-of-20 shooting.
As Notre Dame searched for ways to free Grant and Atkins, Louisville's backcourt cut off every path.
"As soon as we came off a ball screen, another guard was in front of us," Atkins said. "It seemed like those guys were all over the court."
Siva adding 13 points and five assists, including a trio of 3-pointers, was like repeated stabs in the abdomen. "We did a great job at our place keeping him out of the paint on ball screens," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Tonight, it was impossible. We were kind of helpless."
On one such sequence early in the second half, Siva executed an in-a-blink spin move and somehow found Wayne Blackshear for a dish and a score to extend to an 11-point lead. Siva spun around, screaming "Let's go!" and unwittingly wound up nose to nose with referee Michael Stephens.
Siva smiled, put his hands on Stephens' hips, then turned to go back to work.
"I was so excited I almost punched the ref out," Siva said.
Nothing is more exciting than what may lay ahead. Siva said the Cardinals are playing better defense than last year, which precipitates better offense, which has created an overabundance of confidence that another postseason stampede is at hand.
On an afternoon as ideal as Siva could have imagined, an infant nephew napping can be forgiven as the only member of the clan unaware that now is no time to rest.
"Around this time, I feel like I need to play better for us to keep moving," Siva said. "Everybody on the team feels that way. This is March. This is when we step up.
"It's kind of like carefree. You're playing every game like it's your last, because it is. Everything is really working for us and if everybody can just continue to elevate their game, then we'll be a pretty good team."