LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Louisville had its worst shooting night of the season, but survived with defense and rebounding.
Luke Whitehead scored 13 points and grabbed 18 rebounds and the sixth-ranked Cardinals held Alabama-Birmingham to 21 percent shooting in the second half of a 73-55 Conference USA victory.
This was a rematch of last year's Conference USA championship game won by Louisville, 83-78. Whitehead had 17 points and 14 rebounds in the title game to earn tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
This time, the 6-6 senior forward again dominated the boards, but eight came off the offensive glass after his own misses. Whitehead was just 3-of-15 from the field, but made 7-of-8 free throws.
Larry O'Bannon led the Cardinals with 15 points, but was only 3-of-12 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line.
Louisville (17-3, 7-2 C-USA) shot a season-worst 32 percent from the field, but forced 18 turnovers and outrebounded the Blazers, 53-39.
"This was a great win and a much-needed one," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "When you play against this team, you have to win it at the defensive end. We played great defense in the second half. They shot 44 percent in the first half and only 20 in the second."
UAB (13-6, 6-2) made just 6-of-29 shots in the second half when it was outscored, 33-22.
Gabe Kennedy led the Blazers with 16 points and 15 rebounds, but converted only 5-of-15 shots. Morris Finley added 11 points, but was just 3-of-14 from the field.
"We just couldn't score and on the road you have to make shots," UAB coach Mike Anderson said. "They did a good job of attacking the glass in the second half."
Louisville was coming off back-to-back losses to Marquette and Memphis following a 16-game winning streak.
Leading scorer Francisco Garcia and top 3-point shooter Taquan Dean returned after missing Wednesday's loss at Memphis due to injuries. Garcia, who had been sidelined with a sprained left ankle, scored seven points before leaving the game with an injured left ankle early in the second half. Dean had 11 points, but made just 2-of-8 shots.
"There is a silver lining in every cloud and with the injuries to Taquan and Francisco we've seen development in Larry and B.J. (Brandon Jenkins)," Pitino said. "I'm excited about the way they have stepped up for us."
Freshman Brandon Jenkins started a 10-2 run with a layup and Dean capped it with a 3-pointer, giving Louisville a 29-22 lead with 4:20 left in the half. Despite shooting just 33 percent in the first half, the Cardinals held a 40-33 lead.
They gradually pulled away in the second half. A pair of free throws and a 3-pointer by Jenkins increased the advantage to 61-46 with 5:39 left.