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Cardinal rule: Peyton Siva leads Louisville past Michigan for national title

Apr 8, 2013, 11:49 PM EDT

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ATLANTA — Louisville’s 82-76 win over Michigan in the 2013 National Title game turned into a classic, one of the best finals that we’ve seen in a long time.

But it started out as a sideshow, chock-full of the kind of performance that you should always expect to see in a national title game simply because it’s so unexpected.

Michigan’s Spike Albrecht, the 5-foot-11 back-up point guard who looks more like a manager than a baller and scored 24 points during the Big Ten season, lit up the Cardinals with 17 first half points. Michigan took a 33-21 lead despite having to play with National Player of the Year Trey Burke glued to the bench with two fouls. Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason that struggled with shoulder problems all season long, answered with four threes in the span of two minutes, erasing the Louisville deficit in the amount of time it takes microwave a bag of popcorn.

It was thrilling.

Unless you were Peyton Siva.

“At halftime, [Pitino] kept asking me, ‘Do you know the plays?’” Siva said after the game. “You keep looking over at me and asking me what plays to run.”

That wasn’t all he was saying, either.

MORE: Photos from Monday night

“You got to dig in, man,” Pitino screamed at his point guard. “You’re not in shape. I thought you were.” I’m sure it was no where near that PG.

But it worked. Pitino gave Siva the reins in the second half. He let him call the offense. He let him make the decisions and make the reads, and Siva took control, playing arguably his best half of the season. He scored 14 in the final 20 minutes, including a stretch where he netted three straight layups, to turn the tide when Michigan looked like they were getting ready to take control of the game once again.

All told, Siva finished with 18 points, six boards, five assists and three steals.

And in the end, it’s exactly the kind of performance that we should have expected out of Siva.

MORE: Now this was a game for the ages

Here’s the thing about Siva: throughout his entire career, all anyone has ever talked about is what Peyton Siva isn’t. He’s not a great shooter. He’s not big enough to be a superstar in the NBA. He makes dumb decisions and he gets into too much foul trouble and he turns the ball over too much.

But he’s a leader. He’s a winner. He’s everything that a coach could dream about at the point guard spot. “The two greatest people I coached in my life,” Pitino said last month, “were Billy Donovan and Peyton Siva.”

That’s what makes seeing Siva win a national title to end his collegiate career so special, because he’s the epitome of what makes college basketball so special. He’s the face of one of the most popular college basketball programs in the country, but he’s not above babysitting the grandchildren of his head coach. He’s the leader of a team that just one the national title, and after the buzzer sounds in the most important game of his life, he makes a point to seek out Trey Burke and congratulate him after the game. When asked what this win means for the rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville, siva sidesteps the question and says that this wasn’t about anything other than his team.

His brothers.

“We don’t look at it as who won it last year. We’re living in the present,” Siva said. “We got this win for our team.”

“This is really what a team is. This is really what college basketball is about, a group of guys who are like family. With Kevin Ware going down like that, everybody rallying around him, it showed how much we love each other, that we are a family.”

MORE: Rick Pitino had the best week ever

Is it any wonder that he’s the leader of this group?

If anything, that’s the best part about this title.

If anyone deserved to have their college career validated with a national title, it was Peyton Siva.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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