A sea of red greeted the 8th ranked University of Louisville  basketball Cardinals Saturday afternoon as they walked into the KFC Yum! Center for the regular season finale against Notre Dame. The theme was “Wear Red for the Seniors” as the Cardinal faithful said goodbye to point guard Peyton Siva, junior Gorgui Dieng and student assistant (and former player) Mike Marra. The Cards took control early and maintained it throughout for the 73-57 win.
Coach Rick Pitino decided he wanted Dieng to participate in the traditional farewell of the student-athletes because he thinks his Senegalese center has a legitimate shot to be picked up in the first round by the NBA. If not, Dieng has said he will return for his senior season with the Cards.
Siva leaves the school ranked number two in assists behind LaBradford Smith and also second in steals behind Louisville legend Darrell Griffith. Other the other side of the student-athlete equation, Siva is an academic All-American, only the second player at the University of Louisville to earn the honor.
While the Louisvillians who couldn’t get into the KFC Yum! Center were along Bardstown Road at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Card Nation had to contend with the Fighting Irish, a team that took the Cardinals to 5 overtimes back in February. The Irish came out victorious in the longest game in Big East history.
The Cards were also playing for a share of the Big East title and the number two seed and the double-bye going into the Big East tournament. Their tourney run will begin in the quarterfinals.
Louisville flexed their muscle early with Gorgui Dieng playing like the NBA scouts in the house wanted to see. The Lakers, Orlando, Houston, Utah and Atlanta all sent people to watch and Dieng didn’t disappoint. His 9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in the first half set the tone and triggered big performances by Peyton Siva and Luke hancock as well.
Photos: Louisville.com /Tim Girton
The officials called the game unevenly with most of the questionable ones going to Notre Dame early and often. That served to fire up the fan base. And it didn’t keep Louisville from shooting 66.7% in the opening half. They were even 57.1% from the three point arc, a rare feat this season. The defense held the Fighting Irish to 37.5 % from the field and 30% from the arc. That dug a hole they couldn’t get out of and they went into the locker room with the Cards leading 37-27.
In the second half it got worse for Notre Dame. At one time they went down by 19 points while the Cards decided to keep their foot on the gas, unlike the last game when the Cards let up in the second half and let the Irish back into it. Dieng kept up his play and finished with another double-double: 20 points, 11 rebounds 5 blocks and 3 steals.
Siva poured in 13 points and 5 assists and ran the offense like a masterful floor general. He distributed the ball well and kept all heads in the game, including Russ Smith. Smith didn’t have his best offensive game as a Cardinal, only scoring 5 points. There was no quit in Smith, though, and he maintained his defensive pressure. Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware had 8 points each in limited minutes.
After the game, the team was presented with the Big East Championship trophy signifying the fact that they share the title with Georgetown. The three seniors spoke to the still packed KFC Yum! Center after the game and the fans poured on the appreciation.
The Cards next play in Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament. As the number 2 seed, they play on Thursday against the winner of the St. John’s-Villanova match up.
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton