LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Louisville point guard Peyton Siva saw 13-feet worth of West Virginia players flying at him as he sliced through the lane with the Cardinals trailing by a point in the final seconds and wondered how he was going to get the ball in the air, much less in the basket.
The answer was a matter of physics and more than a little luck.
Siva flipped the ball just out of the reach of 6-foot-8 Kevin Jones and 6-7 John Flowers and watched stunned as it spun off the top of the backboard and through the net with 4.5 seconds remaining, giving the 23rd-ranked Cardinals a 55-54 victory Wednesday night.
``I was hoping,' said Siva, who finished with 14 points. ``I looked up and I fell down and I just saw it fall through.'
It was Louisville's second buzzer-beater of the month. The Cardinals (16-4, 5-2 Big East) edged Marquette by a point on Jan. 15 when Kyle Kuric hit a wide-open layup with 4 seconds left.
The degree of difficulty on Siva's shot was markedly higher. So high teammate Preston Knowles - who specializes in taking tough shots - couldn't quite believe it.
``That shot was ridiculous. It was crazy,' Knowles said.
West Virginia's Dalton Pepper tried to answer but his running 35-footer at the horn was well off, capping a second-half collapse by the Mountaineers (13-6, 4-3), who led by 11 at one point before melting down. West Virginia went more than 13 minutes without a field goal to allow the Cardinals back in it, then couldn't close it out at the free throw line after it appeared to withstand Louisville's best shot.
``We just didn't make a shot,' coach Bob Huggins said. ``When you don't make a shot, it makes things tighter.'
Chris Smith led Louisville with 15 points and Knowles added 10, but it was Louisville's defense that led the comeback.
The Mountaineers, playing without suspended leading scorer Casey Mitchell, made just two field goals over the final 15 minutes. Joe Mazzulla led West Virginia with a career-high 18 points, all in the first half.
Despite their offensive woes, the Mountaineers had a chance to win it late. Jones hit a hook shot in the lane with 41 seconds left to give West Virginia the lead.
Louisville's Terrence Jennings had a perfect chance to answer but rushed a wide-open layup. West Virginia's Darryl Bryant - an 82 percent free throw shooter on the season - missed two with 25 seconds left, giving Louisville one last opportunity.
After a timeout, Siva dribbled the ball at the top of the key and tried to get it to Knowles hoping to duplicate a play that worked to perfection in the win over the Golden Eagles.
Instead, the Mountaineers swarmed Knowles and left it up to Siva. The sophomore, who banked in a 3-pointer to give Louisville a 51-45 lead a few minutes earlier, needed one more trick to pull it out.
He blew past Flowers, then absorbed some contact by Jones before scooping the ball out of harm's way.
``We were supposed to push him left and he made a hard shot,' Huggins said.
Something the Mountaineers, playing with just eight scholarship players, couldn't do in the second half.
West Virginia appeared to be in control after opening a 42-31 lead on a basket by Jones with 15:09 to play. Louisville tightened up defensively after that, though some questionable shot selection by the Mountaineers helped. Rather than continue to expose Louisville's lack of size by attacking the paint, West Virginia hoisted a series of 3-pointers, playing right into Louisville's hands.
The Cardinals tied it at 42 on a layup by Jennings and took their first lead since midway through the first half on a layup by Stephan Van Treese.
Louisville's lead grew to 53-47 after Smith hit a jumper from the right elbow, but the Cardinals couldn't close it out. West Virginia clawed back in it at the free throw line, setting the stage for the final dramatic moments.
The victory was a solid start to a difficult week for the Cardinals, who play at No. 5 Connecticut on Saturday then travel to No. 21 Georgetown on Monday.
Coach Rick Pitino has divided the 18-game Big East schedule into six three-game segments. The goal is to go 2-1 in each section.
So far, so good.
``Who knows how this season is going to end,' Pitino said. ``There are so many unusual things that can happen. Our team can come back, we showed great character. Now we can go on the road and kill this segment.'
Before the game, Pitino told the Cardinals he expected the Mountaineers to ``play like a wounded tiger' without Mitchell. Louisville jumped to an early 14-7 advantage, leading Huggins to challenge his team to man up, asking them loudly at one point ``are you scared?'
West Virginia used a 17-2 run to take command, bullying the Cardinals all over the lane while Mazzulla went off.
The senior, whose previous career high was 17 against Kentucky in the NCAA regional finals last spring, did a little bit of everything. He knocked down two 3-pointers - double his total on the season - and knifed through Louisville's porous zone for layups.
Pepper also got in on the act, hitting a 3-pointer and providing a rare putback dunk as the Mountaineers overcame so-so shooting by simply chasing down the miss and reloading.
West Virginia had 13 second-chance points in the half to take a 37-26 lead into the break and appeared ready to become the latest Big East team to go on the road and knock off a ranked opponent.
It didn't happen thanks to Siva, who was booed at one point for erratic play earlier in the season but has responded with the best basketball of his brief career.
``We showed a lot of heart,' Siva said. ``Sometimes we're not going to look good. We just try to dig in ... no words can describe it.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved