Midway through January, the discussion wasn’t whether or not Louisville had a chance to make the Sweet 16. The potential for a tournament run was secondary for a team that many thought could miss the NCAA tournament. Losing by 29 to Providence isn’t exactly the way to inspire confidence.
But the Cardinals turned things around dramatically, getting healthy and making a run through the Big East tournament before once again becoming a trendy upset pick as a four seed in the NCAA tournament.
With a 59-56 win over New Mexico on Saturday night, I think it is finally safe to say that Louisville has proved its doubters wrong as they are now headed for the Sweet 16 and a date with Michigan State.
The leading scorer on Saturday was the always-entertaining Russ Smith, who finished with 17 points, but the Cardinals best player on this night was probably Gorgui Dieng, the center that finished with 10 boards, three blocks and two steals. Louisville is a better team when those two are playing that way.
The most important player, however, was Peyton Siva. Coming into this game, Siva was playing some of the best basketball of his career. In the last five games, he had averaged 14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 2.6 spg. Against New Mexico, Siva wasn’t great. He finished with just six points and five assists, but he was the guy with the ball in his hands down the stretch, and he came up huge for Rick Pitino’s club.
After New Mexico had cut a 15 point lead to three, it was Siva that found Chane Behanan for a layup to push the lead back to five. Two possessions later, Siva split the defense for a tough layup over one of New Mexico’s big men. After the Lobos had worked the lead back to two points with a minute left, it was Siva coming off of a ball-screen and finding Gorgui Dieng for a dunk that pushed the lead to four. New Mexico never threatened again.
When Siva plays like this, he makes Louisville a different basketball team.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.