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Under pressure: Peyton Siva at the point

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Louisville v Florida

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 24: Head coach Rick Pitino yells over at Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals in the second half against the Florida Gators during the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball West Regional Final at US Airways Center on March 24, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Peyton Siva has handled the pressure of being a Rick Pitino point guard, and helped lead the Louisville Cardinals to eight straight wins and a trip to the Final Four. But there was a time when pressure reduced him to tears.

George Dorhmann – in his excellent chronicle of AAU coach Joe Keller – described the scene. Keller’s team had been in the midst of destroying the team Siva played for (Rotary Select, from Seattle), and would eventually win the game by 67. Joe Keller employed a press he called “the Fist,” and the Fist had made it impossible for Siva to bring the ball up the court. Eventually, the young Siva broke down in tears. Keller’s response? He implored his team to jump on Siva even more.

Fast forward several years and Siva is now in the Final Four. And ironically, he plays for a coach who puts tremendous pressure on the opposing team’s ballhandler. Siva applies the pressure on one end of the court, and then gets handed the ball and is asked to lead the offense on the other.

Siva’s career at Louisville has been an interesting one. He’s been in the starting lineup for his sophomore and junior seasons, and has averaged a bit over 9 points and 5 assists each of those two years. He’s not a good 3-point shooter (29% for his career), and he can be turnover prone, but he’s the player Rick Pitino has chosen to run the show. In the past two games he’s had 17 assists. For the NCAA tournament he’s averaging 7 a game.

When Kentucky and Louisville last met on December 31st, Siva pressed and only made 2-13 shots. Just once all season would he put up more field goal attempts. After that loss Siva struggled. In the next six games he averaged just 5 points and 3.7 turnovers.

But he shook that off in late January with a 16 point, 5 assist and 1 turnover performance against Villanova. Since then the Cardinals have gone 15-4, won the Big East tournament, and won their regional. And Siva has been at the controls, playing the best basketball of his career.

Siva has proved that he can handle the pressure of running the point. Now he faces a much bigger task: handling Kentucky.