No. 6 Louisville beats Cincinnati
by C.L. Brown, USA TODAY Sports
Coach Rick Pitino won his 300th game at the helm of the University of Louisville and clinched a double-bye for the Big East Tournament with a 67-51 win over Cincinnati Monday night in the KFC Yum! Center.
The No. 6 Cards (25-5, 13-4 Big East) guaranteed themselves to finish no lower than fourth in the league and thus automatically advance to the tournament quarterfinals. U of L isn’t counting out winning the league title. It sits a half game out of first place behind Georgetown heading into Saturday’s rematch against Notre Dame.
Luke Hancock, fresh off a clutch performance shooting against Syracuse, helped spark another crucial stretch against the Bearcats. His floater in the lane over 6-foot-10 Cincinnati center Cheikh Mbodj, who had five blocks, broke a tie game.
Hancock, who had eight points, followed with a 3-pointer and on a break lobbed a pass ahead for a Chane Behanan dunk. The Cards finished off their 9-1 spurt with Russ Smith, who had a game-high 18, converting a runner in the lane for a 46-38 lead.
It was finally the cushion that U of L made stick, despite Peyton Siva picking up his fourth foul with 11:27 left.
Siva shook off the ill effects from shooting 0-for-9 against Syracuse by getting to the rim against the Bearcats. Siva’s five baskets came all on layups and he scored all 11 of his points in the first half.
While he sat due to foul trouble in the second half, Kevin Ware played effectively in his place by helping the Cards turn up their defense.
U of L forced the Bearcats into a season-high 21 turnovers and converted 23 points off those turnovers. Two of which came when Ware got an off-ball steal and sailed in free for a dunk.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin could only watch helplessly as the U of L lead ballooned. He spent his final timeout with nine minutes left with an 11-point deficit. He had none left to try and stop the Cards momentum on a 9-2 spurt punctuated by a Montrezl Harrell dunk after he blocked a 3-pointer to start a fast break.