No. 13 Cincinnati edges No. 12 Louisville 69-66
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)
But little mistakes in the game's final 5 minutes cost the Cardinals in the 69-66 loss to the Bearcats on Thursday night.
Louisville trailed 44-27 before Terry Rozier's 3-pointer off the inbounds with 15:42 remaining started a 37-17 outburst sparked by a 14-0 spurt and eight forced turnovers in less than 10 minutes.
Russ Smith lost his dribble but collected the ball and drilled a 27-footer with 5:01 left to finish the run and give Louisville a 64-61 lead, its first since scoring the opening basket. The Cardinals (17-4, 6-2 American Athletic Conference) didn't make another field goal as Cincinnati (20-2, 9-0) regrouped for the win and a clear lead in the conference.
''Give them a lot of credit because they lost total momentum in the game and good defensive teams can come back and hold on,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of former assistant Mick Cronin's Bearcats.
Louisville has twice lost leads against ranked conference foes at home in the game's final minutes. Those failures to capitalize may cost the Cardinals, who now trail the Bearcats by 2 1/2 games.
The game marked season lows in points, rebounds (25), steals (three) and made free throws (eight) for Louisville. Only five players scored, which also was a low point.
''They play unbelievable defense. I don't think we were ready for it,'' Cardinals forward Luke Hancock said. ''We prepared for it and practiced for it. We just didn't attack it the way we were supposed to, weren't aggressive enough. You can't just play how you want; you really have to go at their defense a certain type of way to score points.''
Louisville returned from an eight-day layoff and the rust showed as it started off 3 of 15 from the field and made just 8 of 26 in trailing 28-20 at halftime. The Cardinals shot just 26 of 59 (44 percent), which didn't get the job done against a Bearcats team that was 49 percent from the field including 6 of 16 from 3-point range.
''We should have turned it on earlier. We needed to come out that way from the get-go to beat a team like that.''
Montrezl Harrell had 18 points for the Cardinals, who snapped a four-game winning streak. Hancock and Russ Smith each added 16 while Terry Rozier had 10.
Cincinnati also controlled the boards 36-25, which proved critical in avoiding the embarrassment of the big second-half lead. Louisville is now 6-4 when being outrebounded.
Sean Kilpatrick scored 28 points, including six free throws down the stretch that helped Cincinnati win.
Kilpatrick finished 11 for 11 from the line, but his late free throws were big in providing a cushion that offset Rozier's two from the line that brought Louisville within a point with 7 seconds left and left Hancock with a 3-point attempt in the final seconds that missed.
The Cardinals missed their final five shots.
''We knew it was going to be a war, it was going to be a dogfight,'' Harrell said. ''We can't blame it on a layoff. ... We just didn't execute toward the end of the game.''
Despite losing ground to Cincinnati in the conference, Louisville has shown it can come back. The last two seasons have featured mid-year swoons before the Cardinals recovered to reach the Final Four, including winning last year's national championship.
While winning the American title is still on the Cardinals' agenda, a third straight trip to the Final Four remains the ultimate goal. Getting there will require starting and finishing better than they did against the Bearcats.
''A conference championship is nice, but I think everybody on this team has their eyes set higher,'' Hancock said. ''We've got to make a lot of changes and get a lot better if we want to make that run and do what we've done the last couple years.''