Russ Smith hit a game-winning jumper with 2.2 seconds left, and the No. 11 Louisville Cardinals avenged their Jan. 30 home loss to the seventh-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday afternoon, winning 58-57 on the road.
ESPN SportsCenter summed up the Cardinals' big win:
RUSS SMITH IS CLUTCH! No. 11 Louisville beats No. 7 Cincinnati, 58-57. Cardinals' 1st win vs. ranked team this season.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 22, 2014
One of the worst shooting performances of the season for both teams early on turned into a tight second half that looked to be Louisville's down the stretch—until Sean Kilpatrick took over.
The Cardinals took a commanding second half lead thanks to a double-double from Montrezl Harrell with 21 points and 10 rebounds, along with a suffocating Louisville defense that kept everybody but Kilpatrick under wraps. That allowed the road team to take a 10-point lead into the game's final eight minutes.
But Kilpatrick, after starting slow, took over the game, scoring 28 points. He made seven of eight free throws in the game's final 5:04 as the Bearcats went on a 16-4 run to take a 53-51 lead heading into the final two minutes.
But right as Louisville looked dead in the water, having hit one of its last seven shots, the Cardinals got two straight dimes from Russ Smith to Harrell for easy buckets that gave Louisville a 56-55 lead.
Cincinnati's Troy Caupain hit two free throws with 11 seconds left to set up the final possession. Smith pushed the ball up and found Terry Rozier, who fed it back to the point guard for the game-winning jumper.
Smith didn't have his best day, going 3-of-10, but scored 10 points along with five assists and three steals while almost fouling out with four fouls. He also came up with the clutch play to rescue Louisville, as The Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer noted:
1-800-Russ.— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) February 22, 2014
Coming into Saturday's game, anticipation mounted as two Top 15 AAC schools faced off for conference bragging rights. The high stakes resulted in some dominating defense on both sides and struggles on offense, as Louisville only made one of its first eight shots from the field. That allowed Cincinnati to get out to an early 9-8 lead.
Shortly thereafter, the game quickly shifted. The Cardinals found their offense and went on a 12-1 run, largely aided by a stagnant Bearcats offense that only made three of its first 15 shots.
Cincy's offensive start could not have been much worse, but as Top 10 teams usually do, the Bearcats found their way to the basket and earned some tough makes before the halftime break. A buzzer-beater from Caupain made it 22-19 Louisville at halftime.
The first half was one to forget offensively—the two teams combined for 14-of-61 from the field. Kilpatrick led the charge of lethargy, going 2-of-13 in the opening half.
As ESPN's Jeff Goodman noted, the first half was especially painful for the home team but still ended with a close ballgame:
Cincinnati scores 19 points in the first half -- and are only down 3 to Louisville.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) February 22, 2014
When the second half rolled around, Cincinnati finally got going offensively to spur a back-and-forth second half. The Bearcats hit their first two shots, and Louisville went on a slump of 11 straight misses to allow Cincy to take a slight lead.
Louisville then pulled ahead with a 10-point lead but eventually relinquished it due to a shooting slump and Kilpatrick's monster game.
Rick Pitino's defense was impenetrable for Cincinnati all game long, and although the Bearcats were able to find success in spurts, they could not sustain it. Harrell's presence in the post was undeniable, forcing Cincy's best looks to come from the perimeter—and it shot 5-of-20 from deep.
Pitino shared a moment with NBA great and former Cincinnati player Oscar Robertson after the game, per CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel, who was on hand:
Pitino comes over to Oscar Robertson for a hug and some nice words after the buzzer.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) February 22, 2014
Cincinnati made an awfully tough push and proved its worth as a Top 10 team but couldn't overcome a Louisville team that simply made the winning plays.
Following the hard-fought game, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin wouldn't comment on the officiating (via Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio):
Mick Cronin: I have no comment on the officiating.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) February 22, 2014
The Cardinals improve to 23-4 on the year while grabbing their first win over a ranked team. Cincinnati is 24-4 but is now 2-2 in its last four contests.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: B+
Simply put, Sean Kilpatrick was Cincinnati's offense on Saturday. It lived and died with him.
Kilpatrick scored 28 points and grabbed six boards on 9-of-26 shooting on the night. He came out very poor from the field, going 2-of-13 in the first half and playing a big part in his team's early struggles.
But thanks to a 7-of-13 second-half performance and the ability to get to the line at will late in the game, he pushed his team back into the lead in the final minutes almost by himself.
Not only did Kilpatrick take over, but he also joined elite company, as ESPN Stats and Information noted:
Sean Kilpatrick joins Oscar Robertson as only players in Cincinnati history to score 2,000 points— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 22, 2014
Kilpatrick had the ball in his hands quite a bit, which resulted in five turnovers.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: B
In a game where Louisville struggled mightily to score and get rebounds, Montrezl Harrell did both at a high level.
Harrell finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, leading the team in scoring on the night and notching his seventh double-double of the season. He finished 8-of-16 shooting from the field, proving to be more effective than mostly any other player.
However, his free-throw-shooting woes continued. Coming in below 50 percent on the season, he went 5-of-12 from the charity stripe.
Luke Hancock, Louisville: D-
Luke Hancock had one of his worse days as a basketball player on Saturday.
The Cardinals' third-leading scorer went 0-of-6 from the field and 0-of-3 from long range with two points in the game. He also turned it over twice and fouled out with two minutes left, leading to more Cincinnati free throws.
The senior is one of the offensive leaders of this team, averaging more than 12 points per game. But on Saturday, in a hostile environment against a Top 10 conference foe, Hancock was nowhere to be found.
After two barnburners in AAC play this season, these two rivals will have to wait until next season to play again—unless they see each other in the conference tournament. Each finished the season with a road win against the other.
Cincy will enjoy an uncharacteristic and much-needed break after this tough defeat, not playing again until a road contest at Connecticut on March 1. Meanwhile, Louisville returns home and will host Temple on Thursday.