By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
LOUISVILLE — Louisville guard Peyton Siva wasn’t surprised when Kentucky made a run at the Cardinals during the second half of an 80-77 triumph over the Wildcats Saturday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
The fourth-ranked Cardinals, favored by many to end a four-game losing streak to Kentucky, built a 51-34 advantage with 14:33 remaining, but the Wildcats bounced back with a 10-0 scoring spree, sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers by Kyle Wiltjer that prevented a runaway rout by the hosts on their own home court. It was a run that kept the Wildcats in the contest until the final buzzer.
“I knew they were going to make a great run,” Siva said. “Our job was just to weather the storm. Unfortunately we got into foul trouble and they knocked down some big shots. After the win, coach (Rick) Pitino pointed out the mistakes that we made and we have to do a better job. It’s better to learn from a win than a loss.”
Russ Smith, Siva’s partner in the Louisville backcourt, also wasn’t surprised by the final margin and Kentucky’s ability to rally from a double-digit deficit. Smith said the two teams were evenly matched and didn’t expect the Cardinals to win easily.
“They’re really good,” he said. “We know how well we matched up with them and they know how well they matched up with us. It was a well-played game out there on the court that came down to the wire. It wasn’t that we think we’re better than them, but we just felt like we executed our scouting report and we executed our game plan and came out with a victory.”
Following Kentucky’s spurt, Louisville regrouped and even held off a last minute surge that featured a four-point play and a three-pointer by Archie Goodwin. Aside from the gritty effort by the Cats, Siva came away impressed with Kentucky and thinks John Calipari’s squad will be back in the forefront on the collegiate scene and eventually in the hunt for a second consecutive national title as the season progresses.
“They’re meshing really nice together,” Siva said. “They’re starting to find their identity and everybody is really coming into their own. They’re going to be a dangerous team come March.”
In its second true road game of the season, the Wildcats fared better than they did in a loss at Big East member Notre Dame last month. Although on the verge of a possible blowout loss once falling behind by double figures, the Cats didn’t repeat the meltdown against the Cards.
“As a young group, they kept their composure like we did,” Louisville forward Chane Behanan said. “They stuck with it and we knew it was going to be a good ballgame.”
Kentucky’s guards also didn’t fold and committed just 15 turnovers against Louisville’s pressure defense while facing pressure from the Cards’ backcourt duo of Smith and Siva. Louisville coach Rick Pitino called his backcourt tandem one of the best in the nation, but Siva offered praise for Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow and sidekicks Julius Mays and Archie Goodwin.
“I thought they were pretty good,” Siva said. “I though Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin played really great. We tried to take Mays out and limit his shots, but Archie made some key threes for them. They played great and they’re going to be really good down the stretch.”
Siva was happy to end the team’s losing streak to the Wildcats, a loss that was Kentucky’s Calipari’s first setback to the Cardinals in five tries as coach of the Wildcats. Calipari won his debut at the Yum Center two years ago and defeated the Cards twice a year ago.
“It feels great to get a a win,” Siva said. “It’s better for our fans than for ourselves. It feels really good.”
In the end, the Cards overcame foul trouble, while the Cats made shots to keep it close down the stretch.
“They knocked down some key shots,” Siva said. “We knew they were going to make their run. We got into foul trouble and that took away from our aggressiveness. They’re a great team and you’re not going to blow them out and they made some great shots down the stretch.”
The result was another close rivalry game the Cardinals were expecting all along.