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Updated: Saturday, December 27, 2003 8:32 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(20) Louisville 65, (1) Kentucky 56

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Two years after Rick Pitino sneaked into Rupp Arena, he sneaked out with a hard-earned victory.

Otis George powered a huge bench effort with 13 points and eight rebounds as No. 20 Louisville rallied from a 14-point deficit for a 65-56 triumph over top-ranked Kentucky.

Pitino, who led the Wildcats to the 1996 national championship, made his ballyhooed return to Lexington two seasons ago as Louisville coach by entering through a side tunnel in an effort to avoid the wrath of Kentucky fans. He entered the same way in his second visit with the Cardinals, who ended the 27-game regular-season winning streak of Tubby Smith and the Wildcats.

Louisville (7-1) was the last team to defeat Kentucky in the regular season with an 81-63 victory last December at Freedom Hall.

"We have great respect for their ballclub," said Pitino, who improved to 15-1 against his former assistant coaches. "This is a special, special moment. You hate to see friends lose, and Tubby is not only an unbelievable coach, but he's a great friend and one of the classiest guys in the business."

Francisco Garcia, who scored 10 points, came up with the key basket for Louisville. After Gerald Fitch's four-point play pulled Kentucky within two, Garcia halted any momentum with a 3-pointer with Kelenna Azubuike draped all over him with 1:12 left.

"This is just a great feeling," Garcia said. "Coach Pitino already told us how much this game means to him."

The Wildcats trailed for only 67 seconds entering this contest and led through the entire first half. But Cliff Hawkins, who had 12 points, was held scoreless after halftime as Kentucky sputtered.

Kentucky (7-1) became the fourth top-ranked team to lose this season, joining Connecticut, Kansas and Florida. Ranked second, the Huskies are poised to reclaim the top spot.

"I'm very disappointed in our play," Smith said. "We seemed to once again not play with the poise and the patience that we needed to. Rick had his team ready to play."

Reserve forward Larry O'Bannon scored 11 points, making all eight foul shots, as Louisville's bench came up with 33 points compared to 10 for Kentucky.

Fitch, Kentucky's leading scorer at 19.1 points per game, managed only nine on 3-of-12 shooting. The Wildcats shot just 34 percent (20-of-59) from the floor.

"I think we played great defense," Pitino said. "We had that special moment that happens once in a lifetime."

Taquan Dean fed Kendall Dartez for a layup with four minutes to go that gave the Cardinals the lead for good, 52-51. Dean added a 3-pointer and George sank a pair at the line for a six-point cushion with 1:42 to go.


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