Much like it did 11 days ago against Marquette, the University of Louisville erased a double-digit second half deficit, then won the game in dramatic fashion, beating West Virginia 55-54 on Peyton Siva's acrobatic, high-banking layup with 4.5 seconds to play Wednesday night.
"I was trying to pass it, but they collapsed on PK (Preston Knowles), so I just had to try to make something happen," Siva said. "I just flipped it up and it went in."It did, giving the Cards (16-4, 5-2 in the Big East; No. 23 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 19 in the ESPN/USA Today poll) a much-needed victory coming off their loss at Providence and with daunting road games at Connecticut and at Georgetown coming up.
"We've had some great comebacks and these kids, without question, are the cardiac kids," UofL coach Rick Pitino said.
Things were anything, but great for UofL in the first 25 minutes of the game.
The Mountaineers (13-6, 4-3) dominated the first half, leading 37-26, behind 18 points from senior guard Joe Mazzulla (who killed Kentucky in last season's Elite Eight) and a 21-12 advantage on the backboards that led to 13 second-chance points and a 22-14 edge in points in the paint.
West Virginia's lead reached its largest point on one free throw by Kevin Jones 22 seconds into the second half and it was still 11 (42-31) after Jones' jumper with 15:10 to play.
But that's when the Cards started their comeback.
Reserve Russ Smith - who was a huge spark off the bench - hit a three-pointer, then Chris Smith hit another, before Knowles hit another to pull UofL within two (42-40). Then junior center Terrence Jennings, who played an inspired second half (which was needed because freshman Gorgui Dieng took a bad fall after going up for a block), hit a turnaround bank shot to tie the game. Stephan Van Treese's layup, off a pass from Siva, gave Louisville its first lead, at 44-42, since midway through the first half just past the midway point of the second half.
Jones hit one free throw to interrupt the Cards' spurt, but Siva hit a three from the top of the key and Knowles hit a 1 of 2 foul shots for a 48-45 Louisville lead. After a pair of free throws by WVU forward Deniz Kilicli, Siva banked in three from the side to give the Cards a 51-45 cushion with 4:43 remaining.
But then the Mountaineers, who have been beset by injuries of late and had only eight scholarships available Wednesday night, made a rally. They outscored UofL 9-2 over the next four minutes. Dalton Pepper's three-pointer - West Virginia's first field goal in more than 13 ½ minutes - pulled the Mountaineers within one (53-52) with 1:30 to play. After Knowles missed a jumper Jones scored inside with 41 seconds left to give West Virginia a 54-53 lead.
Jennings short-armed a sure two points moments later on a nice lead pass from Siva, but on the other end Mountaineer Darryl Bryant missed a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left.
"No, he wasn't tired," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "You have to get it over the rim. A hundred percent of the shots that don't go over the rim don't go in. It is kind of like golf, a hundred percent of the putts that don't get to the hole don't go in."
Kyle Kuric grabbed the rebound and UofL called a timeout with 14 seconds to play.
"We were going to set a screen for Preston coming off, but George (Goode) forgot to set the screen," Pitino said. "The second option, if he wasn't open, was throw it back to Peyton and set a pick and roll on Peyton. Peyton made a great play, despite the fans wanting Russ Smith at the end of the game."
Siva got the ball at the top of the key, crossed back over to his left, then drove to the basket. As two defenders came toward him he scooped the ball up, and off the backboard.
"It almost hit the top of the glass, but it had enough spin on it that it dropped in," said Smith, who scored a team-high 15 points and also had six rebounds.
"It almost hit the top of the backboard, if it did I probably would've got cussed out," added Siva.
Siva finished 5-for-5 from the field for 14 points.
"I knew he was going to hit it, he hit a clutch three, a clutch bank three, I knew he was the man to take the last-second shot," said Knowles, who was 3-for-16 from the floor for 10 points.
West Virginia shot 18.2 percent (4 for 22) in the second half, including 1 of 10 from three-point range.
"We just didn't make a shot," Huggins said. "When you don't make a shot and you have my two returning starters (Jones and Bryant) going 4 for 21 between them (you're not going to win)." The Cardinals shot just 37.5 percent (21 for 56) from the field for the game, but did make 6 of 15 three-point tries (40 percent) in the second half.
"One thing I try to get through to our players, when they don't shoot well they let it affect their rebounding and other parts of the game," Pitino said. "Basically when you play West Virginia, or you play Pittsburgh, the chances of you shooting well are not great. You've got to play defense and rebound the basketball. In the second half we rebounded great. We played tremendous defense. I said, ‘It's just like the (NCAA) Tournament. There's always one night where you don't shoot well. Good defensive teams, though, go on to the next round."
Jennings, who grabbed nine rebounds and finished with five points, sprained his right knee in the final seconds and his availability for Saturday's game at UConn isn't known. The Huskies and Cards tip off at noon.