7:00 PM ET, January 30, 2014
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Sean Kilpatrick has been Cincinnati's driving force all season, thanks largely to being almost automatic from the foul line.
But even he had to step back and savor a big game keyed by 11-of-11 free throw shooting that helped the No. 13 Bearcats overcome No. 12 Louisville and remain atop the American Athletic Conference.
Kilpatrick scored 28 points, including six free throws down the stretch that rallied Cincinnati for a 69-66 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday night.
"I've just worked on my free throws throughout the year, just really trying to continue to keep getting better," said the senior guard, who entered the game 101-of-119 (84 percent) from the line. "That's something I harp on the most. Just working like I have nothing left in me.
"I just appreciate those free throws today."
Unfazed despite blowing a 17-point lead in the second half, the first-place Bearcats (20-2, 9-0 American Athletic Conference) regrouped to hold the Cardinals to just two free throws in the final five minutes to win the conference showdown with a big hand from Kilpatrick.
Down 64-61, the AAC's leading scorer (19.1 points per game) made two from the line before Justin Jackson's tip-in gave Cincinnati the lead for good with 1:41 left. After Russ Smith's missed layup and Montrezl Harrell's turnover, Kilpatrick closed with four more free throws in the final nine seconds to cap the Bearcats' 13th straight win, which put them 2 1/2 games ahead of Louisville (17-4, 6-2) and Memphis.
All of Kilpatrick's late free throws were big in providing a cushion that offset Terry Rozier's two from the line that brought Louisville within a point with seven seconds left and left the Cardinals' Luke Hancock with a 3-point attempt in the final seconds that missed.
Jackson, questionable for the game with an ankle injury, started and finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 37 minutes. Shaquille Thomas added 11 points and Titus Rubles eight for the Bearcats, who shot 63 percent in the second half and 49 percent (23-of-47) overall.
"You can't understand the fortitude of Titus, Justin and (Kilpatrick)," Cincinnati coach Mike Cronin said. "I know what those guys are made of. That's why we have the record we have. You know what they say in a fight: Everybody's tougher when they got tough guys around them, and I got three of the toughest guys in the country. It makes it easier on my other guys."
Harrell had 18 points for the Cardinals, who shot 44 percent (26-for-59) and snapped a four-game winning streak. Hancock and Smith each added 16 while Rozier had 10.
Cincinnati also controlled the boards 36-25, which proved critical in avoiding the embarrassment of losing the big second-half lead.
Such was the value of having Jackson back after he sustained a left ankle sprain in the first half of Sunday's win over Temple. Despite missing Tuesday's practice, which put his availability in question, the Bearcats' best defensive player looked just fine running the floor and proved it by making plays on both ends at key moments.
While the Cardinals showed their resilience in cutting a 44-27 deficit with 16:33 left down to three and then wiping out an eight-point advantage for their first lead since the first minute, they couldn't put the Bearcats away. Louisville missed its final five shots and had to foul in hopes of getting a miss and another opportunity, and that wasn't happening with Kilpatrick shooting free throws.
"He doesn't miss free throws," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said of Kilpatrick. "If you look at what he shoots from the field, it is awesome. He has a good assist-turnover ratio, and he doesn't miss free throws. It wasn't even close when he went to the line."
For a while it didn't look like Louisville would even have a chance as Cincinnati dictated the pace despite a ragged start by both teams. The Bearcats led 28-20 at halftime before starting the second half 6-of-7 from the field, including 3-pointers by Kilpatrick and Ge'Lawn Guyn that put them on the brink of breaking it open.
Louisville scored 14 unanswered points in just more than two minutes to get to 44-41 before later mounting a 19-8 run over seven minutes capped by Smith's 3-pointer with 5:01 left. Rozier's free throws provided some late help, but those points were all Louisville could get after that, as Kilpatrick sealed the game.
LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 30: Shaquille Thomas #3 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrates during the game against...(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||23-47 (.489)||26-59 (.441)|
|3P Made-Attempted||6-16 (.375)||6-21 (.286)|
|FT Made-Attempted||17-18 (.944)||8-12 (.667)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||14 (0/0)||18 (0/0)|
Next 5 Games
Cincinnati is now 9-0 in conference play for the first time since 1999-00 when it went 16-0 in Conference USA.
After not drawing a foul in the first half, Sean Kilpatrick drew six second-half fouls and made all 11 of his free throw attempts. Kilpatrick fared better in the paint in the second half as well, making 3-of-4 paint field goals after making 1-of-3 in the first half.
Louisville scored 26 points off a season-high 20 Cincinnati turnovers Thursday, including 17 points off 11 turnovers in the second half. Coming into the game, the Cardinals had averaged 21.9 points off turnovers per game, most among major conference teams (AAC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC).
Cincinnati fared much better against Louisville's man-to-man defense than it did against the Cardinals' zone, scoring nearly twice as many points on fewer field goal attempts.[+]
Cincinnati Half-Court Offense - Thursday vs Louisville
Louisville scored six transition points Thursday, tied for its season low. Coming into the game, the Cardinals had averaged 15.7 transition points per game, second most in the AAC.
When Cincinnati and Louisville face off on Thursday (7 ET on ESPN), it will be a matchup of the best offense in the American Athletic Conference vs the best defense.[+]
13 Cincinnati at 12 Louisville
Cincinnati allows 88.1 points per 100 possessions, best in the AAC and fourth in the nation.[+]
Something Has To Give
Louisville averages 119.1 points per 100 possessions, best in the AAC and fifth in the nation.
From Elias: With Louisville falling to 0-4 this season vs top-25 opponents... From Elias: The last reigning National Champion to lose its first 4+ games against ranked opponents: 1988-89 University Of Kansas (lost its first 5 games against ranked opponents)
Louisville forces a turnover on 25% of opponents' possessions, best in the AAC and tied for fourth best in the nation.
Russ Smith assists on 33% of his teammates' field goals when he is on the floor, second best in the AAC behind Shabazz Napier. Smith has increased his assists per game every season during his career.[+]
Defending champion Louisville hasn't gotten it done against the toughest teams on its schedule this season, losing all 3 of its games against ranked teams. And Louisville faces No. 13 Cincinnati tonight, which is the highest-ranked team the Cardinals will have faced so far this season.[+]
Louisville This Season
ESPN Stats & Information