Louisville, KY – Russ Smith scored 18 points and helped key a huge second-half run that propelled eighth-ranked Louisville to a 67-51 victory over Cincinnati in a Big East showdown from the KFC Yum! Center.
Gorgui Dieng added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Cardinals (25-5, 13-4 Big East), who outscored the Bearcats by a 25-7 margin over a nearly nine- minute stretch after the break en route to their sixth consecutive triumph, while Peyton Siva shook off a scoreless performance in Saturday's win at Syracuse to chip in 11 points as well.
Louisville also shined on the defensive end to keep their chances of earning the top seed for the upcoming Big East tournament intact, forcing the fading Bearcats into a season-high 21 total turnovers along with a 29.2 shooting percentage in the second half.
The Cardinals now trail first-place Georgetown by a half-game in the conference standings heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against No. 24 Notre Dame.
"All the parts are coming together, and it is what we hoped," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. "I think we are improving fundamentally."
Cashmere Wright paced Cincinnati (20-10, 8-9) with 15 points, with Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker each posting 12 in the Bearcats' sixth loss in their last eight outings.
The Cardinals broke the game open with a 14-3 tear that came after Cincinnati knotted the score at 37-37 with just under 16 minutes left. Luke Hancock had Louisville's first five points of the surge, during which the Cardinals held the Bearcats without a field goal for almost five full minutes in building a 51-40 lead slightly past the midway mark of the second half.
Cincinnati continued to struggle on the offensive end thereafter, and Louisville reeled off seven unanswered points to extend the differential further. Hancock began that flurry with another trey, which was followed by Montrezl Harrell's fastbreak dunk and a Kevin Ware layup that made the score 62-44 with less than six minutes to go.
The Cardinals maintained a lead of at least 13 points the rest of the way.
"We had no chance to win because we turned the ball over 21 times," Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin said. "We've struggled at times with our decision making. Our freedom on offense, it allows people to make decisions with the basketball and we had guys trying to do things that either they shouldn't be trying to do, can't do, or it's not the time to do it."
Dieng netted six of his points -- with two of the baskets coming on putbacks -- during an 8-2 run that staked the Cardinals to a 30-24 advantage with four minutes left in the first half, and Louisville went into the locker room up by a 35-31 count after Siva -- who went 0-for-9 from the field in the Syracuse win -- knocked down a deep three just before the buzzer.
The Bearcats turned the ball over 12 times during the opening period, but were able to stay within striking distance due to solid shooting from the perimeter -- particularly from Wright. The senior guard hit on 3-of-4 shots from 3-point distance prior to intermission in pacing Cincinnati with nine points.
Wright drained another triple early in the second half to ignite a 6-0 Cincinnati spurt that created a 37-37 tie a little over four minutes into the frame, right before the Cardinals began to take control.
The victory was Pitino's 300th at Louisville, where the esteemed head coach has compiled a 300-111 overall record in 12 seasons ... The Cardinals ended the game with a 42-16 advantage in points in the paint ... Cincinnati shot 6-of-14 from 3-point distance in the first half, but went 0-of-7 from beyond the arc in the second ... The teams were meeting for the first time since the championship game of the 2012 Big East Tournament, a 50-44 Louisville win ... The Bearcats fell to 0-9 this season when scoring under 61 points, compared to a 20-1 mark when reaching that number.