NEW ORLEANS — Losing doesn't come easy, not when you're in The Big Easy for the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
Louisville went into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with visions of beating top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday and playing Monday night for a national championship.
Once the top-ranked Wildcats shattered such thoughts with a 69-61 victory, U of L players held their heads high.
"I'm the happiest person in the world," said Chane Behanan, the freshman power forward who had 10 points and nine rebounds. "Like Coach said, 'Go out and celebrate. Celebrate the Final Four.'
"He said if we don't celebrate the Final Four, we're all fools because we accomplished a lot this year."
The 17th-ranked Cardinals (30-10) won eight straight post-season games, including four in four days to win the Big East Tournament as the No. 7 seed.
That put U of L into the NCAA Tournament for the 38th time, but few could have expected the Cards would make their ninth trip to a Final Four.
Coach Rick Pitino likened Saturday's result to preparing for the Olympics, "then at the end you're on the podium and they're playing somebody else's national anthem, but you have a bronze medal around your neck."
"We're not satisfied. We wanted to win," said Russ Smith, who scored nine points. "But ... nobody expected us to come this far. Everybody always doubted us. We're just upset we lost because everybody picked against us and we just wanted to win and prove everybody wrong."
Peyton Siva led Louisville with 11 points, all in the final 10 minutes.
His three-pointer with 9:12 left tied the game at 49, capping a 17-4 run that erased a 13-point UK lead.
"We just always fought back," Siva said. "We're never going to give up."
But the Cards, whose only lead came on Chris Smith's basket to open the scoring, could not overtake UK.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored back-to-back baskets and UK never trailed the rest of the way.
"Down the stretch, we tried to make a run, and they just capitalized on most of our mistakes," Siva said. "That was a good team today. They're deep one through seven, and everybody contributed big for their team today."
UK (37-2) outrebounded U of L 57-31 and outscored the Cards 32-18 at the free-throw line on New Year's Eve, winning by nearly the same score — 69-62.
U of L would not be beat in the same fashion, though. This time, the Cards outrebounded UK 40-33, including 19 offensive boards. UK outscored the Cards 11-9 at the foul line.
The Cards couldn't shoot, though.
While UK knocked down 28 of 49 shots (57.1 percent), U of L went 24-for-69 (34.8 percent).
"We control the glass, but we didn't get a chance to hit a lot of shots today," said Gorgui Dieng, who finished with seven points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. "But that's what basketball is about.
"We got a big shot when we tied the game up, but today wasn't a good day for us. We played with a lot of heart. ... There are a million players that wanted to be where we're at right now. We had a great season."
■ Behanan scored in double figures for the fifth game in a row, and Siva hit double digits for the second time in the tournament.
■ Dieng notched double-figure rebounds for the 18th time this season. He had eight offensive rebounds, doubling his total from the first four tourney games.
■ The Cards finished 14-10 when scoring less than 70 points. They were 16-0 when scoring 70 or more.
■ UK is only the third team to shoot 50 percent or better against U of L this season. The others: Providence (59.2) and Florida (50).
■ U of L outrebounded UK 19-6 on the offensive glass, the fifth time this season the Cards had 19 or more offensive boards.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com