PORTLAND, Ore. — Louisville point guard Peyton Siva did his best Steve Nash impersonation against Davidson.
Siva had 17 points and six assists, many times driving inside and then pulling back out to the perimeter a la the two-time NBA MVP, and the fourth-seeded Cardinals moved on in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 with a 69-62 victory over Davidson on Thursday.
The idea behind Siva’s tactic was to help tire out the Wildcats and their up-tempo offense, and it worked.
“We said one of the greatest things Steve Nash does off the pick and roll, if he probes the lane and he decides he doesn’t have anything, he just dribbles it back out and takes a different angle of the screen,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “I think that helped Peyton, watching Steve Nash do it.”
After getting ousted in their opening game the past two seasons, Pitino and the Cardinals (27-9) advanced to the third round of the West Regional. Louisville, coming off a surprising run to the Big East tournament title, is making its sixth straight appearance in the NCAAs.
Davidson (25-8) couldn’t quite get a read on Siva and it wore out the Wildcats.
“Our guys defended ball screens three, four or five times during a possession,” veteran coach Bob McKillup said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever defended a ball screen before, but when you do, you better move your legs, and that is wearing and tearing on their legs.”
Siva, who got into foul trouble but was able to stay in long enough to make his impact, had a big contingent of supporters at the Rose Garden from his hometown of Seattle, about a three-hour drive to the north. A fan in the crowd held a sign proclaiming “Peytonvul,” a play on the preferred pronunciation of Louisville.
“Coach said we wouldn’t have a home-court advantage,” Siva said. “But if everybody was like my dad, we would. I was happy to see them in the crowd. It was kind of like high school.”
Chane Behanan added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Cardinals, who led by as many as 14. On Saturday, Louisville will face New Mexico, which defeated Long Beach State 75-68 on Thursday.
Jake Cohen had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Davidson, which was making its 11th tournament appearance and first since 2008, when Stephen Curry led the underdog Wildcats to the round of eight.
The Cardinals jumped out to the early lead but Nic Cochran hit a 3-pointer to give Davidson a short-lived 13-12 advantage. Kyle Kuric’s layup put Louisville quickly back in front.
Louisville’s 6-foot-11 center, Gorgui Dieng, got into foul trouble, picking up three midway through the first half. But the Cardinals began to inch away, pulling ahead 20-16 after Behanan’s layup and Kuric’s jumper.
Davidson fought off Louisville’s defensive pressure and narrowed it to 26-24 on 6-foot-10 junior Cohen’s turnaround jumper with 3:20 left in the half. But the Cardinals slowed down the Wildcats and went up 31-25 after Russ Smith’s 3-pointer with 1:09 left.
Cochran made a free throw before Elisha Justice’s layup with 21 seconds left made it 33-25 at the break.
Siva opened the second half with a dunk to stretch the Cardinals’ lead to 10 points, their biggest margin to that point. His jumper with 14:20 left extended the lead to 43-31.
Behanan’s layup put Louisville up 58-44 with 3:37 left. Davidson got to within 59-51 when Chris Czerapowicz made a 3-pointer with 1:57 left. Cochran made three straight free throws to make it 67-60 with 22.6 seconds left.
Tyler Kalinoski’s layup got the Wildcats within 67-62, but time ran out for Davidson.
The Cardinals were ranked as high as No. 4 earlier this season, but a spate of injuries and a stretch of five losses in seven games dropped them out of the rankings. They limped into the Big East tournament with losses in three of their final four regular-season games.
But they rolled through the conference tournament with four wins in four days, beating Seton Hall, Marquette, Notre Dame and, finally, Cincinnati in the championship game for momentum going into the NCAAs.
Siva was the Big East tournament MVP, averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
Averaging 68 points per game, the Cardinals are more known for their defense. They’ve limited opponents to an average of 38 percent shooting from the floor, and an average of just over 61 points per game.
Louisville limited Davidson to 35 percent from the floor (21 for 60). The Wildcats made just four of 19 3-point tries.
“We just tried to limit their 3s and limit their fast breaks,” Siva said. “Those are keys to the game today. We tried to wear them out, and it worked. We tried to hold them, we tried to get them off the 3-point line and get them off the fast break.”
Davidson got its tournament berth with a dramatic, double-overtime victory against Western Carolina last Friday in the championship game of the Southern Conference tournament. The Wildcats led by 12 with 2 minutes left in regulation but needed two overtimes to put it away.
Louisville won NCAA championships in 1980 and 1986.