LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville forward Kyle Kuric’s first attempt at a game-clinching shot against No. 4 Pittsburgh ended up getting slammed right back in his face.
The second put the 16th-ranked Cardinals ahead in overtime. The third nearly led to one of the most costly premature celebrations in college basketball history.
Pitt’s shot at winning the Big East will have to wait. The party’s just starting at Louisville, even if it began a little earlier than it should.
Kuric scored 12 points, including two big baskets in overtime, to lead the Cardinals past the Panthers 62-59 on Sunday in a gritty victory that showcased Louisville’s toughness against one of the nation’s most physical teams.
“Sometimes you can’t play your style, sometimes you have to play the other team’s style and win,” Kuric said. “It was a big win for us for obvious reasons. We won with defense, No. 1, and then rebounding. If you miss a shot, don’t let it affect you.”
Kuric hardly looked bothered when his game-winning layup at the end of regulation was swatted to the ground by Pitt’s Brad Wanamaker. The junior swingman atoned by hitting a 3-pointer early in the extra session then appeared to seal Louisville’s second win over a top five team this season on a dunk with less than a second remaining.
That’s when things got a little bizarre.
Confusion reigned briefly after the bucket, which put the Cardinals up 62-57. Some Louisville cheerleaders on the baseline raced onto the floor thinking the game was over, with one male cheerleader grabbing the ball and tossing it in the air.
Officials called Louisville for a delay of game technical foul and put .5 seconds back on the clock. Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs knocked down two free throws and the Panthers had one last chance to tie, but Gibbs couldn’t get off a desperation heave in time.
“All good things have to come to an end, and the male cheerleader (at Louisville) comes to an end,” joked Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “Hopefully he’ll learn the rules.”
Peyton Siva led the Cardinals (22-7, 11-5 Big East) with 14 points and Mike Marra added 11 off the bench for Louisville, which remained unbeaten at home in conference play.
Gilbert Brown scored 20 points and Wanamaker had 13 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for the Panthers (25-4, 13-3), but Pitt turned it over three times and missed all three of its field goal attempts in overtime.
The most painful miss came with about 5 seconds to go when Wanamaker passed up a 3-pointer with the Panthers trailing by three and tried to hit Brown under the basket instead. The ball rolled out and Louisville’s Terrence Jennings came away with it.
Jennings hit Siva with an outlet pass, who fed Kuric for the dunk.
“We can’t get a better look than that,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “We did exactly what we wanted. We couldn’t have had a better situation … we just need to finish the play.”
Pitt’s second loss in its last three games means the Panthers have just a one-game lead over Notre Dame heading into the final week of the season.
The Panthers travel to South Florida on Wednesday and close the season at home against Villanova on March 5. Pitt will need to finish ahead of the Irish in the standings to win the title. Notre Dame beat the Panthers 56-51 on Jan. 24.
“This is a tough loss for us,” said Wanamaker. “Now we have to win out to win the Big East. We caught them out of sync a little bit in the second half but we just couldn’t make some shots and didn’t finish strong in overtime.”
Gibbs’ final heave was a fitting end to a tough day. Pitt’s leading scorer finished with 14 points on 3-of-11 shooting,
“Ashton had a couple of good open looks that they didn’t want to have happen,” Dixon said. “We keep fighting and battling to get yourself back in the game and that is what we did.”
The Panthers just couldn’t get over the hump while becoming the fourth top-six team to lose this weekend, joining No. 1 Duke, No. 5 Texas and No. 6 San Diego State.
The Cardinals played the nation’s best rebounding team even on the glass. Pitt, whose plus-11 rebounding margin is tops in the country, outrebounded Louisville by just one, 39-38. The Cardinals did it despite losing leading rebounder Rakeem Buckles with a torn ACL in his right knee in the first half. Buckles, who missed 12 games earlier in the year with a broken finger, is out for the rest of the season.
“We were winning with our defense and rebounding down the stretch, that was the key,” Pitino said. “We fought through it.”
Still, the Panthers had their chances thanks to Wanamaker, who did a little bit of everything. He hit three big shots in the second half as Pitt erased a 12-point deficit to tie the game three times in the final 3:37.
The last one, a confident 18-footer, knotted the game at 56 with 17.1 seconds to play.
Siva drove the lane but his shot was swatted out of bounds by Gary McGhee. The Cardinals ran a back screen for Kuric, who hit a game-winning layup against Marquette from the same spot Jan. 15.
Not this time. Wanamaker swallowed it and sent the game to overtime.
No biggie. Kuric calmly drilled a 3-pointer on Louisville’s second possession of the extra period, and the Panthers self-destructed.
Brown was called for a charge, then Siva swiped the ball from Travon Woodall. Officials whistled McGhee for traveling on Pittsburgh’s next trip, allowing the Cardinals to continue to drain the clock.
“We did some good things, it just came down to turnovers,” Dixon said. “We had four travels. We had some in the lane. We had some in the press. Those are things we have to work on.”
Louisville held its own against the bigger, stronger Panthers from the outset. The Cardinals extended their matchup zone in an effort to get Gibbs out of rhythm, and it worked.
He missed all five of his field goal attempts in the first half. Then again, his teammates weren’t much better. Pittsburgh went more than 10 minutes without a basket as Louisville built a 24-12 lead.
Wanamaker ended the drought with a runner, and for a brief moment, the Panthers woke up.
They closed to 26-22 on a jumper from Brown, but Marra responded with a 3-pointer and Siva added a pair of free throws just before the horn to give Louisville a 31-22 lead at the break. The nine-point deficit was the second-largest for the Panthers this season, behind a 12-point hole they faced in a loss to Tennessee back in December.
Wanamaker almost led the Panthers all the way back.