Louisville trailed most of the way and was down 69-68 when Gaines, who scored 22 points, made one of the most important plays of the game.
``Reece Gaines is the premier guard in the country. I never thought he could play the point, but he carried the team on his shoulders,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. ``Gaines did something uncanny. He had Dean wide open, looks him off and gets the ball to Kendall. That's why he's such as great point guard. I've never seen a play like that.''
Tennessee (9-6), which lost to Louisville by one point last season, was in control for much of the game but couldn't hold on in the end.
The Volunteers were the first team in 11 games to shoot better than 40 percent from the field against Louisville, finishing at 43 percent, but also turned the ball over 18 times.
``I'm very disappointed,'' Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said. ``Give Louisville credit for coming back in the second half with some big 3-point shots. We were completely worn out with about seven minutes left in the game.''
The Cardinals trailed by as many as 12 and didn't take their first lead of the game until Dean's 3-pointer with 4:14 left that capped an 18-8 run.
After Brandon Crump's wide-open dunk gave Tennessee a 57-48 lead with 10:04 remaining, Louisville regained the momentum.
Dean got a steal and then scored to cut it to 62-60. Bryant Northern's 3 with 4:44 left tied the game for the first time since the first half.
Tennessee's Ron Slay, who finished with 21 points, made a pair of free throws to regain the lead but he turned the ball over down the stretch to give Louisville a chance to grab the win.
The Vols had a 69-68 lead after Jon Higgins made a jumper but Slay then turned the ball over and Dartez made a basket to give the Cardinals the lead for good. Slay fouled out on the next play, and Brown made both free throws with 24.6 seconds remaining to seal the win.
The Cardinals came into the game beating opponents by an average of 20 points a game, but Gaines thinks this experience will help Louisville.
``We know have a tough team, but now we know we can win close games,'' Gaines said. ``When you win, it's always good for you. We know when we play a great team we have to bring effort for 40 minutes not just 20 minutes like we did today.''
The Cardinals shot just 24-of-59 from the floor but 6-of-27 on 3-point attempts.
The Vols led by eight at halftime, but Louisville trimmed it to four as Gaines opened the second half with seven straight points. The Vols came back with a 7-0 run to push the lead back to 11 with 14:04 remaining.
The Cardinals never led in the first half but tied it twice and kept the game close until the Vols had a 11-3 run.
During the run, Pitino was called for a technical foul as he argued with the officials, and Holden made both free throws to give the Vols a 31-24 lead with 5:01 remaining before halftime.
Watson hit a jumper with 3:22 to go to cap the run and give Tennessee a 35-24 lead.
Then the Vols got a basket and a 37-26 lead with 1:42 left when Holden missed but a Louisville player tipped it in trying to get the rebound.
|Technical fouls: Louisville 1 (Team).|
Officials: Bert Smith, Gerald Boudreaux, Mike Thibodeaux.