LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Sharpshooter Patrick Sparks lived up to his name in one of college basketball's greatest rivalries.
Sparks converted three free throws with less than a second remaining to propel No. 11 Kentucky to its greatest comeback, a 60-58 triumph over No. 14 Louisville.
Struggling on both ends of the court, the Wildcats (7-1) trailed 32-16 at halftime but were behind 58-57 in the closing seconds thanks to the long-range shooting of Sparks, who scored a season-high 25 points with five 3-pointers.
"It was a great basketball game," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "You've gotta give a lot of credit to Patrick Sparks, he made the big shots."
After inbounding to Kelenna Azubuike with 4.8 seconds left, Sparks got the ball back in the left corner with time winding down. Attempting to get off a 3-pointer, he was fouled by Ellis Myles.
"Certainly what we didn't want to do under any circumstances was foul, but we did," Pitino said. "We had two mental breakdowns and hopefully we'll learn from that and move on."
Sparks, who rallied Kentucky from its largest halftime deficit with 18 second-half points, calmly sank all three free throws with 0.6 seconds left to seal the Wildcats' first win in their last three meetings with Louisville. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 24-12, including 15-8 since 1983.
"It was a tale of two halves," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "You expect your team to come ready to play, but as Rick Pitino's teams always do, they were tough and fought hard. We did things that championship teams do. I though our guys didn't panic, they kept their poise, and we did the things we needed to do to win."
The loss was particularly bitter for Pitino, who admitted to ESPN's Dick Vitale on Friday that leaving Kentucky for the riches of the NBA in 1997 was a decision he regretted.
In his eight seasons with the Wildcats, Pitino reached the Final Four three times, winning the NCAA championship in 1996 and coaching in the title game in 1997.
Pitino also has some history with Smith, who was one of his assistants at Kentucky between 1989-91. Smith took over for Pitino after he accepted the job with the Boston Celtics and led the Wildcats to their seventh NCAA title in 1998.
Azubuike scored 12 points and Chuck Hayes added six points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats, who shot just 21 percent (5-of-24) from the field in the first half.
In the second, Sparks came up huge, hitting his fifth 3-pointer with 4:39 remaining and added a three-point play 1:46 later to cut Kentucky's deficit from 10 points to four with 2:50 left.
Azubuike, who shot 3-of-12 from the field, converted a layup with 34 seconds left to give the Wildcats their first lead since five minutes into the contest at 57-56.
Louisville retook the lead with 15.2 seconds remaining behind a pair of free throws by Larry O'Bannon, who scored 16 points.
Freshman Juan Palacios scored 11 points in the first half for the Cardinals (6-2) but missed nearly all of the second after getting poked in the eye.
Taquan Dean scored nine points and Francisco Garcia chipped in eight and five assists for Louisville, which melted under Kentucky's pressure in the second half, mustering just four points in the final 5:12. The Cardinals finished with 14 turnovers to Kentucky's eight.
"We played excellent defense, but got a lot of bad breaks and unfortunately we didn't execute on the last play of the game," Pitino said. "That's a lot of credit to them and we made a mistake, but hopefully it will (help) us in a close game down the road."