LOUISVILLE—In the first contest with the University of Louisville, it was a tale of two halves for the Cincinnati Bearcats. A squandered 17-point first-half lead, wound up a 69-66 heartbreaking loss at the Fifth Third Arena.
This time around, the Bearcats simply couldn't muster enough offense in key situations as Louisville held the lead nearly the entire game for a 77-70 victory in front of a sold-out crowd at Freedom Hall.
A pair of Taquan Dean 3-pointers in the game's first three minutes propelled the #9-ranked Cardinals to a quick 9-4 lead.
The #17-ranked Bearcats (17-4, 6-2 C-USA) were able to go on a 12-6 run to grab the lead, 16-15. The lead would last all of 28 seconds as Louisville's Fransisco Garcia hit a three to jump back up 18-16.
Louisville (19-3, 7-1 C-USA) was able to sustain as much as an 8-point lead on their way to a 38-31 half-time advantage.
A 9-2 run for the Bearcats to begin the second half tied the score at 40-40 with 16:09 left. After Louisville went up 42-40, Eric Hicks scored four straight points on his way to a game-high 21 for Cincinnati, giving the Bearcats their first lead (44-42) since the 15:57 mark of the first half.
Hicks, who also finished with eight rebounds and five blocks, kept the Bearcats close but could never get them over the hump.
Louisville held the lead the rest of the game by four to eight points, although Cincinnati didn't go down without more chances to win.
With 2:08 left in the game, Cincinnati had closed to within one possession (67-64). After Louisville guard Brandon Jenkins made just one of two free throws, Cincinnati had the chance to cut the lead once again.
However, two consecutive misses on long 3-point attempts by Jihad Muhammad clanked off the back of the iron allowing freshman sensation Juan Palacios to bank a long 3-pointer giving Louisville a 71-64 lead with just 1:18 left in the game—a shot the Bearcats couldn't recover from.
Palacios finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds while Dean had a team-high 19 for the Cardinals.
A deflated Bob Huggins was disappointed in all of the missed opportunities, such as the 20-of-31 from the charity stripe.
"We just didn't make the plays that we had to make," Huggins said in his post-game show. "They (Louisville) did (make the plays) and we didn't. That's what it came down to.
The win gives Louisville sole possession of first place in the C-USA. Louisville, who came into the game second nationally in field goal percentage defense behind only Cincinnati, held the Bearcats to 37% from the field.
Cincinnati will now look to rebound from the loss as they travel to Charlotte to take on the 49ers on Saturday. The game is a national broadcast on ESPN at 4:00 PM ET.