LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Peyton Siva hit a twisting layup with 4.5 seconds remaining to lift No. 23 Louisville over undermanned West Virginia 55-54 on Wednesday night.
The sophomore point guard finished with 14 points as the Cardinals (16-4, 5-2 Big East) rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to post their second down-to-the-wire victory in the last two weeks.
West Virginia's Dalton Pepper tried to answer Siva's shot, but his rushed 3-pointer was well off as the horn sounded.
Chris Smith led Louisville with 15 points and Preston Knowles added 10, but it was Louisville's defense that led the comeback.
The Mountaineers (13-6, 4-3), playing without suspended leading scorer Casey Mitchell, made just two field goals over the final 15 minutes. Joe Mazzulla led West Virginia with a career-high 18 points, all in the first half.
Despite their offensive woes, the Mountaineers had a chance to win it late. Kevin Jones hit a hook shot in the lane with 41 seconds left to give West Virginia the lead.
Louisville's Terrence Jennings had a perfect chance to answer but rushed a wide-open layup. West Virginia's Darryl Bryant missed two free throws with 25 seconds left, giving Louisville one last opportunity.
After a timeout, Siva dribbled the ball at the top of the key and tried to get the ball to Knowles hoping to duplicate a play that worked to perfection in a win over Marquette on Jan. 15.
Knowles took the ball, drew three Marquette defenders and fed Kyle Kuric for the game-winning layup. This time, the Mountaineers swarmed Knowles and Siva opted to attack the rim. He sliced through two West Virginia players and spun the ball off the glass.
The Mountaineers, out of timeouts, got the ball to Pepper. The sophomore hurriedly dribbled up the floor, failing to see Bryant all alone behind the Louisville defense. Instead, he put up a 35-footer that didn't have a prayer.
West Virginia, playing with just eight scholarship players, ran out of gas after opening a 42-31 lead. The Mountaineers missed 14 straight shots, opening the door to Louisville's rally.
Some questionable shot selection by the Mountaineers helped. West Virginia built its advantage by bulling its way inside. All that seemed to be forgotten in the middle of the second half.
Rather than go inside, the Mountaineers hoisted 3-pointers, playing right into Louisville's hands.
The Cardinals tied it at 42 on a layup by Jennings and took their first lead since midway through the first half on a layup by Stephan Van Treese.
Louisville's lead grew to 53-47 after Smith hit a jumper from the right elbow, but the Cardinals couldn't close it out. West Virginia clawed back in it at the free throw line, setting the stage for the final dramatic moments.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino warned his team not to get overconfident after West Virginia coach Bob Huggins suspended Mitchell indefinitely on Monday for a violation of team rules.
Pitino told the Cardinals he expected the Mountaineers to "play like a wounded tiger." Louisville jumped to an early 14-7 advantage, leading Huggins to challenge his team to man up, asking them loudly at one point "are you scared?"
West Virginia used a 17-2 run to take command, bullying the Cardinals all over the lane while Mazzulla went off.
The senior, whose previous career high was 17 against Kentucky in the NCAA regional finals last spring, did a little bit of everything. He knocked down two 3-pointers — double his total on the season — and knifed through Louisville's porous zone for layups.
Pepper also got in on the act, hitting a 3-pointer and providing a rare putback dunk as the Mountaineers overcame so-so shooting by simply chasing down the miss and reloading.
West Virginia had 13 second-chance points in the half to take a 37-26 lead into the break and appeared ready to become the latest Big East team to go on the road and knock off a ranked opponent.
It didn't happen thanks to Siva, who was booed at one point for erratic play earlier in the season but has responded with the best basketball of his brief career.