CINCINNATI (AP)—Taquan Dean took No. 19 Louisville on quite a ride, then got one himself.
Dean scored 25 points on Saturday, leading the Cardinals’ furious comeback from a 17-point deficit to a 69-66 victory over No. 18 Cincinnati in one of the most remarkable games in the long-standing rivalry.
After Jihad Muhammad’s long 3-point attempt smacked harmlessly off the backboard to end the game, Dean climbed onto the shoulders of forward Ellis Myles and rode off the court, his mouth open in amazement.
“I knew my teammates would step it up eventually,” said Dean, who was 7-of-13 from behind the arc. “We’ve been in that situation before. We just looked at each other and said, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ We didn’t look at each other once and look down.”
The Cardinals (14-3, 3-1 Conference USA) got shoved around and trailed by 17 points in the first half, rattled by Cincinnati’s unrelenting man-to-man defense. Louisville found its composure, asserted itself inside and showed more poise when it mattered.
“The toughest part is we had the lead and weren’t able to sustain it,” said James White, who had 15 points for Cincinnati. “Anytime we get a team down like that, we’ve got to finish them off.”
There were three ties in the final 4 minutes before freshman Juan Palacios’ tip-in put Louisville ahead to stay 67-65. Cincinnati’s Jason Maxiell missed the first of his two free throws with 45 seconds left.
Louisville then ran down the shot clock, and Francisco Garcia passed out of a double team to Larry O’Bannon, who sneaked unguarded under the basket for the deciding layup with 11 seconds to play.
“It was just a defensive breakdown,” said Nick Williams, who led Cincinnati with 18 points. “Somebody lost their man. It shouldn’t have happened. But the game shouldn’t have come down to that.”
Garcia was the main target of Cincinnati’s defense, and went only 2-of-13 from the field with seven points. He finished with six assists, including the pass that decided the game.
“Francisco made an unbelievable pass on the backdoor play,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “That shows how special he is.”
After a timeout, Cincinnati (14-2, 3-1) couldn’t do better than Muhammad’s long, desperation shot that was well off the mark and broke the rivals’ recent pattern. The home team had won the last seven games in their series.
Myles, the Cardinals’ leading rebounder, had only six rebounds and five points, twice shot air balls on free throws, and had to play tentatively after picking up his fourth foul with 8:18 to play. It barely slowed the Cardinals, who had 11 more rebounds in the second half out of their zone defense.
O’Bannon added 18 points for Louisville, which won despite shooting a season-low 37.5 percent from the field.
The Bearcats’ biggest problems came from the free throw line, where they went only 17-of-30. Maxiell, a 64 percent shooter from the line, was only 7-of-13.
“It’s demoralizing,” Bearcats coach Bob Huggins said. “Down the stretch we got the ball where we wanted it to go, and we were 1-of-4 from the foul line. It de-energizes you.”
Cincinnati had the energy flowing early.
Playing in front of their biggest home crowd of the season—there hadn’t been a sellout in the 13,176-seat arena until Saturday—the Bearcats set a bump-and-grind tone that knocked the conference’s most accurate shooters off their mark.
The Bearcats ran off to a 10-0 lead, surprising the Cardinals by pushing the pace. Muhammad hit a 3 and a fastbreak layoff after stripping Myles of the ball.
In the opening minutes, the officials repeatedly stopped the game to calm it down.
Cincinnati’s Eric Hicks swung his elbows emphatically after a rebound and smacked Myles in the chest, driving him backward. Referee Ed Hightower stopped play at one point to warn Myles and Hicks about shoving and trash talking.
The physical play got the desired result: Louisville became tentative and missed 13 of its first 15 shots. The Cardinals’ shooters lead the conference at 49.1 percent.
White’s 3-pointer gave Cincinnati its biggest lead, 25-8. Louisville never got closer than 10 points before the break.