LOUISVILLE — Cincinnati blew a 17-point second-half lead, yet still found a way to win Thursday night.
The 13th-ranked Bearcats edged No. 12 Louisville 69-66 before a KFC Yum Center crowd of 22,644 and a national television audience.
"Got to give them a lot of credit because they lost total momentum in the game, and good defensive teams can come back and hold on," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. "They shot 63 percent in the second half, which is outstanding.
"We made a couple of blunders down the stretch in not blocking out with the lead, and then we tried to reach in and get steals on (Sean) Kilpatrick when he's an 86 percent foul shooter. It's just uncalled for."
Kilpatrick, leading the American Athletic Conference in scoring with a 19.1 average, led Cincinnati to its 13th consecutive win. He finished with 28 points, sinking all 11 free-throw attempts. He scored 10 of Cincinnati's last 12 points, including eight at the foul line.
Cincinnati finished 17 of 18 at the foul line, while Louisville made a season-low eight in 12 attempts.
Justin Jackson and Shaquille Thomas scored 11 each for the winners. Jackson's nine rebounds helped the Bearcats (20-2, 9-0 AAC) to a 36-25 edge on the boards.
Louisville (17-4, 6-2) had a four-game winning streak stopped.
Montrezl Harrell paced U of L with 18 points and six rebounds. Luke Hancock added 16 points and six assists, while Russ Smith had 16 and four. Terry Rozier scored 10 points.
Early on, the Cards had no answer for Cincinnati's suffocating defense. U of L missed 12 of its first 15 shots and fell behind by as many as 15 in the first half.
"They play unbelievable defense," Hancock said. "I don't think we were ready for it. I mean, we prepared for it in practice. We just didn't attack it the way we were supposed to, weren't aggressive."
A 7-0 run to close the half pulled the Cards to within 28-20 — still U of L's season-low point total for a half.
But Kilpatrick and former Scott County standout Ge'Lawn Guyn hit back-to-back three-pointers to open the second half, and the Bearcats eventually stretched the lead to 17.
Louisville responded with a 14-0 run that included a Rozier three-pointer, a pair of Harrell dunks and two technical free throws by Hancock. A Hancock jumper and a three-point play by Smith finished the flurry to make it a 44-41 game.
The Cards finally caught up at 61 when, with 5:49 left, Harrell scored on a post-up move.
After a Cincinnati turnover, with the shot clock down to four seconds, Smith put the Cards ahead with a long three-pointer.
Kilpatrick sank two free throws to cut U of L's lead to one, and Jackson's tip-in with 1:41 left put the Bearcats back on top, 65-64.
"Just a lack of paying attention," Rozier said. "We had a chance to box out a great player, Jackson, and he got a little tip-in. That gave them a little momentum again."
Louisville had chances to come back. But Smith missed a driving shot and Jackson later stripped a ball from Harrell.
Kilpatrick added two free throws with 8.9 seconds left.
Rozier hit two for U of L at 6.4, only to have Kilpatrick do the same at 5.4.
Hancock put up a desperation three just ahead of the buzzer, but hit nothing.
"Give them credit," Pitino said. "They made a lot of big plays. We had them rattled and let the game get away. But (I'm) proud of the effort. Not proud of the defensive execution or the rebounding."
■ U of L had only five players score, a season low. The Cards also finished with season lows of three steals and 25 rebounds.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.