In a game of runs, No. 13 Cincinnati had the last one and beat No. 12 Louisville 69-66 Thursday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
Cincinnati (20-2, 9-0 American Athletic Conference) closed the game with an 8-2 run to maintain its lead atop the conference. It was Cincinnati's 13th straight victory.
"Whenever you can beat the second-place team in your conference, you are going to be happy with that," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "Any road win in conference against a ranked opponent is always a good win. But we expected to win. That's why we got on the bus last night to get on I-71 South."
Louisville fell to 17-4, 6-2 in the AAC, and had its four-game winning streak snapped.
Louisville led 64-61 with five minutes left but made no field goals and just two free throws from that point on.
In that same span, Cincinnati got a basket from senior forward Justin Jackson, while senior guard Sean Kilpatrick went 6-for-6 from the foul line.
Kilpatrick led the Bearcats with 28 points after having just five at halftime. He made 7-of-18 shots and 11-of-11 free throws.
"We are up there (among the elite teams)," Kilpatrick said. "Being able to come here and get a win in the Yum Center, and this is a great building, a great environment, this is something that is a test for us, and we answered the bell. That was something that I was proud about with our young guys. They did a tremendous job."
Jackson had 11 points and nine rebounds as Cincinnati held a 36-25 rebounding advantage. Cincinnati hit 17-of-18 free throws while Louisville was 8-of-12.
Louisville was paced by sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell, who had 18 points and six rebounds. He made 9-of-13 shots from the floor. Senior guard Russ Smith and senior forward Luke Hancock had 16 points each for the Cardinals. Hancock had six assists, Smith four.
"You have to give Cincinnati credit; they came back and held on," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "We had the momentum and they made big plays. We had them rattled and let it get away."
Louisville used a 14-0 run early in the second half to get back in the game after trailing 44-27. Cincinnati weathered that storm with a 9-4 run, then Louisville used a 12-2 run to take a 64-61 lead with 5:01 left.
The Cards then missed five shots and had a turnover in those final five minutes. Their only two points came at the free-throw line.
"I'm proud of the effort, but I'm not proud of the defensive execution or the rebounding," said Pitino. "Our defense was very porous. Give them credit; they shot 63.2 percent in the second half (12-of-19). That's unacceptable. We made bad decisions. Kilpatrick makes 85 percent of his free throws, and we foul him twice in the final minutes reaching in for no rhyme or reason. What we wanted to do was not to reach in on him and make him pass the basketball.
"We made a lot of blunders down the stretch. When we switched, we failed to block out. On one of our last misses no one blocks out one of the best rebounders in the conference (Cincinnati's Titus Rubles)."
Cincinnati led 28-20 at halftime thanks to two 8-0 runs. Louisville shot just 31 percent in the half (8-of-26). The Cardinals did not reach double figures until 5:57 remained in the half, at which point Cincinnati led 20-11.
"The game is all about runs," Jackson said. "It's all about can you stop the (opponents') runs. That's what we did, and we came out with the W. ... We're in Louisville's gym, and you just got to contain it."
Cincinnati did not shoot particularly well either, making just 11-of-28 shots (39 percent), but the Bearcats outrebounded Louisville 23-16 and led in steals 3-1. Each team made nine turnovers.
Louisville bounced back in the second half to make 18-of-33 shots (54.5 percent), and the Cardinals hit 5-of-12 three-point shots after going 1-of-9 in the first half.
The Cards finished with a 6-2 lead in blocks and outscored Cincinnati 26-13 off turnovers. Cincinnati had 20 turnovers to Louisville's 13.
NOTES: Junior PG Chris Jones, Louisville's third-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, returned to action after missing three games with an oblique injury. He did not start but entered the game after 2:17 and played 23 minutes. He scored six points but made just 3-of-11 shots and had no assists. ... This was the 98th meeting between the schools, and Louisville holds a 55-42 advantage. ... Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville from 2001-03. ... Louisville plays host to Central Florida on Saturday. Cincinnati faces South Florida on Sunday. The Cardinals and Bearcats meet again Feb. 22 in Cincinnati.