Louisville junior Montrezl Harrell was ejected in the first half, three other players were charged technicals, and each bench was tagged an additional technical in the contest, as the Cards eventually emerged with a 76-67 win.
Leading 28-22 with under a minute left in the first period, Harrell and WKU sophomore Brandon Price were were fighting for a loose ball on the ground, before Harrell rose and swung an attempted punch at WKU freshman guard Avery Patterson.
After a couple frantic minutes of coaches and players running around, the referee review ended with Harrell being ejected, WKU freshman D.J Clayton tagged with a technical, and both benches charged with technicals after WKU head coach Ray Harper and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino exchanged heated words.
"People’s emotions just got the best of them," Clayton said. "We got out there, we were going hard and then people got to shoving.”
"(Harper said at halftime) to let that go and not to get involved in any of it. We need all our players to be on the floor to get what we can get."
It was a physical, hard-fought battle for both teams, as WKU trailed by five points at halftime, closing the gap to 33-31 with 18:12 to play, 51-47 with 7:53 left, and 58-54 with 4:42 remaining--but could never fully overcome the hump.
The Toppers still only trailed 69-64 with 1:23 remaining, but Louisville beat WKU's press for a dunk and a seven-point lead, then hit 5-of-6 free throws in the closing minute to ice it.
"I thought we competed," Harper said. "Physically, we competed hard.
"We didn’t always play as smart as I would like. You can’t fault the effort. We gave ourselves a chance right there with about four minutes to go, down five, with the basketball.
"I think we can be a good basketball team. We have to compete like that every day. We have to prepare like that every day."
Free throw differential was a major key, with Louisville hitting 26-for-30 free throws (87 percent) and WKU only making 15-of-25 (60 percent.)
Entering the contest, the Cards were shooting 60 percent from the charity stripe on the season--WKU 68 percent.
"I don’t think it (the outcome) had anything to do with Montrezl (Harrell)," Harper said. "It had to do with to do with us missing free throws.
"The front end of one-and-ones. Missing twos. You just can’t beat good teams and shoot 60 percent from the free throw line. You just can’t do it. You can beat teams that maybe aren’t as good, but you’re not beating good teams if you can’t make them. And we didn’t.”
A big bright spot for WKU was the play of true freshmen Clayton and Justin Johnson, considering the top five ranked opponent.
Clayton sank all four of his three-point field goal attempts, finishing with 14 total points and four rebounds.
Johnson gathered six rebounds (three offensive,) dished two assists, and made 2-for-5 field goals against a long, athletic Louisville frontcourt.
"DJ (Clayton) was terrific," Harper said. "He gave you another glimpse of his future today.
"Avery (Patterson) is a guy who hasn’t played a lot, but over the course of over the last week to 10 days, he’s starting to get better. We felt like today, with his toughness and his ability to handle the basketball – I really didn’t want to do it, I wanted to wait one more game before getting him deep in the mix – but how we were playing and the game itself dictated the game. I think he did well. I think it’s due to how he has practiced."
Senior T.J Price led WKU in scoring with 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting, as well as earning seven rebounds.
Next on the schedule, the Toppers have a week off before hosting Brescia on Saturday, Dec. 27.