The Cardinals used some dogged defense and a relentless rebounding effort to outlast the Big East-leading Panthers 62-59 in overtime - despite Pitt almost getting a last-second assist from a UofL cheerleader - in a "white out" at the KFC Yum! Center.
"We came in with the mindset that we had to hit everybody, we had to be physical," sophomore guard Mike Marra said. "And that's what we did."
Louisville forced the Panthers, who came in averaging 11.5 turnovers per game, into 16 errors and stayed with Pitt on the backboard. The bruising Panthers entered with a +11.3 rebound margin, but only had one more than the Cards (39-38).
Sophomore point guard Peyton Siva scored 14 points, while junior forward Kyle Kuric added 12 points and seven rebounds for 16th-ranked Louisville (22-7, 11-5 in the Big East), which moved into a third-place tie in the conference with St. John's as it knocked off the fourth-ranked Panthers (25-4, 13-3).
"We got a great win against a terrific, terrific basketball team," said UofL coach Rick Pitino, whose team held the Panthers to 0-for-3 shooting, while forcing three turnovers in the overtime. "I thought out guys played great defense throughout...and I thought Kyle was awesome on the backboards."
The Cards led most of the way, thanks to a 17-3 first-half run, then held off the pesky Panthers to remain unbeaten at home in the Big East. Things started off well for UofL.
But Pitt was up to the challenge early. The Panthers scored six straight, then got a tip-in from Dante Taylor and one free throw from Gilbert Brown to take a 9-7 lead at the 13:01 mark.
The Cards answered, though, with 10 straight points. Marra, who finished with 11 points off the bench, hit a three-pointer, then a pair of free throws before Preston Knowles hit a three and Stephan Van Treese a rebound basket to make it 17-9.
Ashton Gibbs hit three free throws, after being fouled on a three-pointer, to end Louisville's run, but the Cards came right back with another one. Kuric hit a three-pointer, then Siva scored on a run out before Marra found Gorgui Dieng wide-open underneath for a big dunk.
Brad Wanamaker ended Pitt's 11-minute, 11-second field goal drought with a floater in the lane with 3:20 left. Siva answered on the other end, though, with a runner off the glass before the Panthers reeled off 10 of the next 12 points to cut Louisville's lead to 26-22 with 1:22 remaining in the half.
However the Cards closed out the half with five straight points - a three-pointer by Marra and two free throws from Siva - to take a nine-point lead (31-22) into the locker room at halftime.
UofL shot just 36.7 percent (11 for 30) from the field in the first half, but it was still better than the Panthers, who hit 32 percent (8 of 25) of their tries. The Cards also matched Pitt with 19 rebounds.
Pitt picked up where it left off late in the first half at the start of the second. The Panthers scored the first six points before Louisville responded with seven in a row on another three from Marra, a rebound basket by Van Treese and a dunk by Siva.
However the Panthers, whose only previous losses this season were to Tennessee, Notre Dame and St. John's, hung around, as they typically do.
Wanamaker's conventional three-point play cut the Cards' lead to 49-47 - the closest Pitt had been since the 11:36 mark of the first half - with 5:57 to play. Two minutes later, after four straight UofL misses, Wanamaker hit a jumper to tie it at 49 with 3:38 remaining.
Siva was fouled on the Cards' ensuing possession and hit both of his free throw tries. He hit two more after a Pitt miss before Gilbert Brown's breakaway dunk and the subsequent free throw, thanks to a Marra foul, cut the Cards' lead to one, 53-52.
Knowles was fouled on UofL's next possession and he hit 1 of 2 at 2:22 to make it 54-52. The two teams traded misses before Wanamaker's jumper tied it with 1:09 to play.
After a timeout Knowles hit a jumper over 6-foot-11 Pitt center Gary McGhee to give the Cards the lead with 34 seconds left, but Wanamaker hit another jumper to tie it 16 seconds later.
Louisville brought the ball upcourt, electing not to call a timeout, before Siva drove to the basket with the clock winding down. He was blocked by McGhee, and the game clock expired, but the officials eventually put 2.3 seconds back on it to give UofL one more chance. However Wanamaker blocked an attempt underneath the basket by Kuric, who had gotten free on a well-executed in-bounds play.
In overtime the two teams traded misses, and the Panthers turned it over, before Kuric hit a three-pointer to give Louisville the lead for good. Then, after a Siva steal, Terrence Jennings hit 1 of 2 free throws to give the Cards a four-point cushion.
McGhee hit one free throw with 1:45 left before Jennings turned it over. The two teams traded misses (a jumper by Brown and a difficult corner three by Knowles) before Brown missed a point-blank attempt underneath with seven seconds left. Kuric got free for a breakaway dunk with five-tenths of a second to play.
After the dunk, though, a UofL male cheerleader grabbed the ball and threw it up into the air. The Cards were called for a technical foul.
"I had no idea what happened," Kuric said. "Honestly I thought they called it on me. I was kind of relieved when it wasn't."
Gibbs hit both free throws to make it a three-point game. Pitt, though, couldn't complete its miracle comeback as Gibbs desperation shot from just inside half court bounced off the backboard.
"All good things have to come to an end and today is the day the male cheerleader has come to an end," Pitino quipped to open his post-game press conference.
"I'm not going to talk about that because I'm still mad about that, it could have cost us the game," said Knowles, who finished with eight points, seven assists and five rebounds in 41 minutes.
Louisville lost sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles to a sprained right knee in the first half and his status for the Cards' 7 p.m. Wednesday night home finale against Providence is unlikely.
"With that injury normally you're out a week, but in our case it'll probably be six to eight," quipped Pitino, whose team will try to avenge their Jan. 22 72-67 loss to the Friars on its Senior Night.