The 17th-ranked Cardinals were more than holding their own against Cincinnati in the second half, with 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng having his way against the Bearcats' front line. He tried to block a shot with 10:54 left, and wound up on the bench with his fourth foul.
He watched the game slip away.
Point guard Cashmere Wright scored 22 points and matched his career-high with six 3-pointers as the Bearcats rallied for a 60-56 victory on Thursday night that turned on one foul.
"Gorgui picked up his fourth foul, and that changed the whole momentum of the game," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "If Gorgui stays in there, we have a great chance to win the game."
The foul negated Louisville's advantage inside and turned it into more of a shooting contest. The Bearcats got the better of it.
Cincinnati (20-8, 10-5 Big East) went 11 of 27 from behind the arc, a place where Louisville (21-7, 9-6) has prospered. The Bearcats' fifth win in six games broke a tie with the Cardinals for sixth place in the conference.
"Coach told us there's no offense, no plays, just play," said Wright, who made several 3s from well beyond the arc. "I felt like that was a very comfortable situation for me, not worrying about mistakes, just going out there and playing."
Sean Kilpatrick had 12 points, including baskets that started and finished a 14-point run that put the Bearcats ahead to stay midway through the second half. Cincinnati improved to 4-3 against ranked teams this season.
The Cardinals had won seven of their last eight, making 3s at a prodigious rate lately. They lost their touch Thursday, going only 1 of 14 from behind the arc. Leading scorer Kyle Kuric missed all of his 11 shots from the field, including an open 3 that would have tied it with 19 seconds left.
"I thought every shot was great," said Kuric, who managed only four free throws. "There wasn't one shot that when it left my hand I thought it was awful. Just one of those nights."
Dieng had 11 points and 13 rebounds, but couldn't do anything during the decisive minutes because of foul trouble.
"That's the type of effort you want this time of the year, the type of defense you want this time of the year," Pitino said. "We just have to keep Gorgui in the game."
Cincinnati won the rivalry game 63-54 last season, an impressive victory that started its surge toward the first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005. The Bearcats need another late surge to get there again, including a few impressive wins over quality teams to help make their case with the selection committee.
This one represented a good starting point.
"We needed a win against a ranked opponent, and you don't want to lose to Louisville," said power forward Yancy Gates, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds. "I think the team kind of fed off of it."
The student sections behind each basket dressed in black to show support for the team, which was wearing all-black uniforms. Cincinnati's coaches dressed in all-black as well, with head coach Mick Cronin sporting an open-collar black shirt.
Kilpatrick went to the scorer's table and raised his arms before the tipoff, trying to get as much home-court advantage as possible from the crowd of 13,176 - only the Bearcats' second sellout of the season.
There were three ties and eight lead changes in the first 10 minutes, with neither team ahead by more than four points. Wright made four 3s in five attempts to keep the back-and-forth pace.
The Bearcats changed things around on Louisville, going 8 of 19 from behind the arc in the first half for a 32-30 lead. That was more 3s than the Bearcats had made in four of their last five games, and it made up for a 33 percent shooting percentage overall from the field.
By contrast, Louisville was only 1 of 4 from behind the arc in the half, more intent on taking the ball inside for dunks and floaters.
Russ Smith had two driving bank shots and two free throws during a 15-4 run that put Louisville ahead 45-39 with 12:16 left, the Cardinals' biggest lead. Dieng had 11 points and 10 rebounds by then, but picked up his fourth foul with 10:54 to go while trying to block a shot.
That coincided with a 14-0 Cincinnati run that began and ended with baskets by Kilpatrick and put the Bearcats ahead 53-45 with 6:36 to go.
Cincinnati's missed free throws gave Louisville a chance to tie, but Kuric was off on his 3 from the top of the arc. Dion Dixon and Gates each made a free throw to make the lead hold up.