"I thought it was a great game," said U of L head coach Rick Pitino. "Two rivals playing their hearts out in a great atmosphere. I'm really proud of these guys…it was just a great basketball game."
Louisville's super sophomores Taquan Dean and Francisco Garcia came out firing, both draining three-pointers in the opening minutes, that propelled the 6th-seeded Cardinals to an early 15-4 advantage at the six minutes into the game.
Five consecutive points by Cincinnati's Tony Bobbit fueled the Bearcats first run of the evening, closing the margin to 15-10 and awakening the home friendly crowd.
Louisville, forced to play without Garcia, who spent the last ten minutes of the first half on the bench with two personal fouls, struggled offensively without the 6'7 sophomore, who had scored 10 points in the first nine minutes of action.
Coach Pitino gives
After swapping a few baskets the Bearcats found their stride again, cutting the Louisville lead to 19-17 on a baseline basket by Field Williams. A basket by James White, followed by a three-pointer #33, gave Cincinnati a 23-19 lead with three minutes remaining in the first half.
A Louisville drought which lasted nearly ten minutes came to an end when Luke Whitehead hit one of two free throws. A layup by Whitehead seconds later, followed by a three-pointer by Nate Daniels at the buzzer gave the Cardinals a 25-23 lead.
The Cardinals, which won the battle of the boards in the first half 17-15, shot just 31% from the floor, while the 3rd-seeded Bearcats connected on 42% of their shots.
Garcia, who connected on 4 of 5 shot attempts in the first half, opened the second hitting his two first shots, giving the Cardinals a brief 29-25 lead.
After a Bearcat run that gave them a 33-29 advantage, Louisville answered on a jump shot by Whitehead and a layup by O'Bannon to reclaim the lead at 35-33. Two free throws by Cincinnati's Jason Maxiell evened the score at 35-35 at the 15:01 media timeout.
With the score knotted at 43-43, Cincinnati exploded for a 7-0 run and established their largest lead of the game at 50-43 with 7:43 remaining in the quarterfinal contest. A steal and lay up by Garcia started a 6-1 run to close within 51-49, but basket, plus one, by Maxiell opened Bearcat lead back 54-49.
After being fouled on a three-point attempt by Nick Williams, Garcia drained all three free throw attempts, pulling the Cards within 58-56 at the final media timeout.
Once again, however the Cardinals faced a last minute situation and has been the case for numerous contests late in the season, Louisville fell just short, as a last-second three-point attempt by Taquan Dean fell just short.
The Cardinals, which will now await their NCAA tournament seeding, were paced by Garcia, who poured in 28 points. Luke Whitehead added 12 points and 8 rebounds. Cincinnati was led by Jason Maxiell's 15 points and Armein Kirkland's 12.
"I think we need it," said Pitino of the long break prior to the start of the NCAA tournament. "They need a little mental break."