LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Louisville guard Peyton Siva trudged to the bench midway through the second half against Marquette on Saturday and thought his ears might be playing tricks on him.
With the Cardinals struggling and the sophomore point guard in the midst of one of the worst games of his short career - he missed all five field goal attempts, converted just half of his 10 free throws and turned it over four times - Siva distinctly heard the disapproval of the crowd.
"I was just like, 'God, did I do that bad that I got booed?'' Siva said, laughing.
Yet rather than throw a towel over his head and wait for the Cardinals, who trailed by 13 when Siva walked off the floor, he led the cheers as replacement Elisha Justice helped Louisville rally to an improbable 71-70 win.
The assistant coaches kept coming over to Siva during the comeback, telling him he was going to get a chance to get back in and make an impact. Siva told them not to bother.
"Sure I wanted to be out on the court but (Justice) was the better player at the time,'' Siva said.
Consider it part of the growing up process for one of the leaders of the surprising 19th-ranked Cardinals (15-3, 3-1 Big East), who play at Providence (11-8, 0-6) on Saturday.
A year ago there's a chance such harsh criticism would have stuck with Siva for weeks. Instead, he responded four days later with the best all-around performance of his career, finishing with 10 points and posting career highs in both assists (10) and steals (seven) as Louisville rolled by St. John's 88-63.
"I thought Peyton did an unbelievable job,'' said coach Rick Pitino. "I thought he was great, I really thought he ran the team.''
Which is all Pitino asks. He admonished the fans for harping on the thoughtful Siva while telling him not to take the late-game benching against Marquette personally.
Justice, a freshman, was able to handle the pressure well enough to cap one of Louisville's more stirring victories in recent memory, yet Pitino knows his team's success over the next two months will depend on Siva's continued development.
"Coach P told me to stay confident on offense and stay in attack mode and it worked out,'' Siva said. "Everybody was making their shots.''
And the boos he heard against Marquette quickly morphed into cheers as the Cardinals blew out St. John's.
Ordered by Pitino to be more active on the glass to help out Louisville's injury-depleted front court, Siva provided the game's signature moment in the second half. He threw himself into the lane to chase down a missed shot and tipped the ball with two hands to center George Goode, who dunked it to push the lead to 24.
Siva lifted both arms up high as he raced back down the floor, basking in the crowd's approval. Yet he's not letting the love go to his head. He didn't get depressed when he heard the boos. He's not getting ahead of himself because it stopped.
"Like coach P says, we've got an NBA fan base,''' Siva said. "If you're not doing right they're going to let you know and that's only going to make me stronger.''
It's a strength he's been working on from the moment he walked on campus.
Playing for the exacting Pitino as a freshman is no fun. It can be downright torture for a point guard.
"All freshmen (stink) to Coach P,'' Siva said.
Siva quickly became a fan favorite because of his relentless motor and freakish athleticism. He has no problem dunking despite his 5-foot-11 frame, and has exceptional body control when he gets in the lane, allowing him to absorb a hit from an opponent and still finish the play.
His popularity also came at the expense of then-teammate Edgar Sosa, whose Jekyll-and-Hyde act wore thin during his four seasons with the Cardinals.
The two players, however, never became rivals. Siva played the role of dutiful reserve and reveled in the role.
Sosa moved on after the season, and Siva has found the spotlight burns a little brighter when you're playing 30-plus minutes a night. His role in running Louisville's up-tempo attack is substantial, and when he struggles, the rest of the team typically follows.
Siva looked overwhelmed and out of control in a loss to rival Kentucky on New Year's Eve as Kentucky's top defender, 6-foot-6 swingman DeAndre Liggins, harassed Siva for 33 largely miserable minutes.
A frustrated Siva turned to Sosa, now playing professionally in Europe, for guidance. Sosa told him to basically wear ear muffs during the game and focus on the court, not the sounds coming from the stands.
"He said they're going to be with you through the good times and they're going to boo you at the bad times but you're going to be the leader of the team regardless,'' Siva said. "Regardless of how the fans may do, I'm playing for Coach P and playing to get our team a win.''
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