CINCINNATI – Cincinnati knew just three weeks ago what it felt like to get a big conference road win.
The Bearcats were on the other end of the emotional swing Saturday.
Russ Smith hit an 18-foot jumper with 2.2 seconds to play to give No. 11 Louisville a 58-57 victory over the seventh-ranked Bearcats.
With Sean Kilpatrick handling most of the scoring for the Bearcats they managed to wipe out an 10-point second-half deficit and they led 57-56 on two free throws by freshman Troy Caupain with 11 seconds to play.
On Louisville's last possession, Terry Rozier passed the ball back to Smith, catching the notoriously stingy Cincinnati defense off guard and he hit the game-winner.
"There were a lot of assignments we missed, and he got it off," Kilpatrick said. "It was a tough shot."
Smith knew it was good.
"Honestly, it felt really good leaving my hands," he said. "I was always ready. When I gave it up, I thought Terry might shoot . but when he raised up, he threw it to me, and I got a decent look at the basket."
The Cardinals tipped the inbounds pass and the Bearcats didn't even get off a shot before the buzzer sounded.
The win was Louisville's sixth straight and 1th in 11 games. The winning streak started after the 69-66 loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 30. They snapped the Bearcats' 19-game home winning streak.
"Obviously, that was a hard fought game, better described as a bloodbath," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said.
Montrezl Harrell, who was just 5 of 12 from the free throw line, led the Cardinals (23-4, 12-2 American Athletic Conference) with 21 points, Rozier had 11 and Smith finished with 10 on 3-of-10 shooting.
Kilpatrick had 28 points for the Bearcats (24-4, 13-2).
"My guys really played hard, which I appreciate," Cronin said. "We just didn't play very well today, we didn't play very smart today. Even if we would have won, we'd have won because of our toughness. We wouldn't have won because of our execution today."
Feeding off the intensity of a sellout crowd at Fifth Third Arena, the game started fast-paced and physical in a matchup of two of the nation's best defenses. Louisville held Cincinnati to 6-of-31 shooting and the Bearcats limited Louisville to 8-of-30 shooting from the field in the first half.
Louisville had held seven of its last 10 opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the field, and continued that trend Saturday. Unlike in the teams' first matchup, when Cincinnati shot 48.9 percent, the Bearcats started 3 of 27 from the field. Louisville swarmed the Bearcats, intercepting passes, swatting away shots and forcing Cincinnati to rush its offense.
"The thing that bugs me is that if they miss a shot, they let it bother them," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "I tell them that I will never take them out because of missed shots. Defense makes the difference. Play defense, play your butts off on defense, and they did today."
Cincinnati missed 13 straight field goal attempts over an 8:25 scoring drought as the Cardinals built a 21-9 lead. But down 12 points with 4:41 left in the half, the Bearcats outscored Louisville 8-1 the rest of the way before halftime, capping the half with a jumper by Caupain to make it 22-19. On the Bearcats' first possession of the second half, Ge'Lawn Guyn hit a 3-pointer to tie the game.
The Bearcats, fourth in the nation in scoring defense (57.4 points per game), held Louisville to just 22 first-half points. The output was the Cardinals' second-lowest in a half this season, slightly higher than the 20 points they had in the first half of the teams' first meeting.
Louisville found its touch in the second half, shooting 14 of 25 from the field and again building a 10-point lead.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati's shooting woes — with the exception of Kilpatrick — continued. Kilpatrick made 15 straight Cincinnati field goals in the second half, taking more than three times the number of field goal attempts (26) as any of his teammates.
Even though the Bearcats went ahead 52-51 on a free throw by Kilpatrick with 2:20 left, Cincinnati didn't make a field goal over the last 3:49 of the game.
"We were missing free throws and we were in serious foul trouble, and we couldn't stop Kilpatrick," Pitino said. "We went to a halfcourt trap and the guys did a terrific job getting the ball out of his hands."
Louisville's Luke Hancock finished with two points, fouling out with 1:40 left and his team down 52-51. Mangok Mathiang fouled out with 2:20 left and finished with four points.
"It was a really big game for us," Smith said. "To win a game with us against the world like that, with a team coming together, that's tremendous."