No. 13 Cincinnati 64, Louisville 62

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CINCINNATI (AP)—Armein Kirkland suggested a way to crack one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, then made the shot that made it happen.

Kirkland worked free against a smaller defender and made a short bank shot with 16.9 seconds left, giving No. 13 Cincinnati a 64-62 victory over Louisville on Thursday night in the Conference USA quarterfinals.

Taquan Dean’s rushed 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark, providing a second consecutive dramatic finish this season for the longtime rivals.

Cincinnati (22-6) lost by 27 points at Louisville in January, ending its season-opening winning streak at 13. The Bearcats needed overtime to beat the Cardinals in the rematch on their home court.

Playing in a downtown arena near campus, the Bearcats overcame Francisco Garcia’s career-high 28 points and one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. It came down to one play suggested by Kirkland.

During a timeout to set up Cincinnati’s last shot, the 6-foot-8 forward told coach Bob Huggins that he was being guarded by Dean, a 6-foot-3 point guard who is limited by a groin injury.

The idea: Let Kirkland get in position under the basket for a pass.

“It’s just a play we have in practice,” Kirkland said. “We didn’t run it at all in the game. I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got a mismatch,’ and we’ve only run that play a couple of times in 20-odd games.”

Louisville (20-9) surrounded power forward Jason Maxiell when he got the ball near the free-throw line, leaving Kirkland open to catch a pass and make an easy shot that snapped the game’s seventh tie.

Cincinnati shot 48.9 percent from the field, the best mark for any of Louisville’s opponents this season. Still, the Cardinals had one last chance to pull it out.

Louisville didn’t call timeout after Kirkland’s basket, hoping it could get Garcia open one last time in transition. Instead, the Bearcats double-teamed him, forcing Dean to hurry a 3-pointer that was way off the mark.

“I just rushed,” said Dean, 1-of-8 on 3-point attempts. “There was more time than I thought. I faded back.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino pointed out that Dean hasn’t been able to practice because of the groin strain, which affects his shot. He had no choice but to take the final one.

“There’s not a person in America I’d rather have take the shot than Taquan Dean,” Pitino said.

Cincinnati was ready to let anybody but Garcia get his hands on the ball with the game on the line.

“I don’t think they knew what they were going to do,” Kirkland said. “We scored, and they had to bring it up and do something real quick.”

Maxiell scored 15 points and Kirkland had 12 as the Bearcats won the game up-front.

Garcia, who aggravated a sprained ankle in Louisville’s first-round win over East Carolina, showed no lingering problem as he went 10-of-14 from the field.

He hit a pair of 3s and a pull-up jumper as Louisville surged ahead 15-4 in the first six minutes. Then, he picked up his second foul, went to the bench and watched the Cardinals’ offense collapse.

Louisville fell into a 1-for-16 funk, going 10:05 without a field goal. Cincinnati took advantage by working the ball inside to its brawnier front line to build a four-point lead.

Luke Whitehead, also recovering from a sprained ankle, ended Louisville’s drought by scoring off a drive with 46 seconds left in the half. Nate Daniels’ 3-pointer gave Louisville a 25-23 halftime lead.

There were six ties and five lead changes in the first 11 minutes of the second half, when both defenses dug in and made runs tough to come by.

Nick Williams, who lost his job as the Bearcats’ point guard down the stretch, hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to spark 10-1 spurt that gave Cincinnati its biggest lead, 50-43.

Louisville pulled even with 48 seconds left, when Maxiell grabbed the net and was called for goaltending on Dean’s off-the-mark layup attempt.

Center Robert Whaley, who quit the Bearcats out of frustration over his limited playing time, was on the bench in street clothes for the first time since he left last month. Several players quit the team last season, but were welcomed back.

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