LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- The outside shooting of Taquan Dean and the inside muscle of freshman forward Juan Palacios helped Louisville move atop the Conference USA standings.
Dean made five 3-pointers en route to 19 points and Palacios added 17 and 10 rebounds as ninth-ranked Louisville completed a season sweep with a 77-70 victory over No. 17 Cincinnati.
The Cardinals entered the game fifth in the nation in both scoring offense (85.6) and 3-pointers per game (10.1), but the Bearcats once again gave them a challenge with a stingy defense. On January 15, Louisville was held to 38 percent shooting before escaping with a 69-66 victory after guard Larry O'Bannon followed an errant jumper with 12 seconds left.
"They're probably the best defensive team in the country in the half-court situation because they block shots well and they rebound well," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "It doesn't get any better than them defensively and when you can score against their defense, you know you're a pretty good offensive basketball team."
The Bearcats entered second in the nation in field goal percentage defense at .357, but the Cardinals shot 43 percent (15-of-35) in the opening half with four 3-pointers to take a 38-31 lead at the break.
Cincinnati clawed back into the game early in the second by holding Louisville (19-3, 7-1 C-USA) without a field goal for 4:10. The Bearcats took their first lead since early in the game at 44-42 on a layup by Eric Hicks with 14:09 remaining, capping a 13-2 run.
Palacios responded with six of the Cardinals' next eight points, making it 52-47 with 9:24 left on a layup. Dean added a 3-pointer 46 seconds later and pushed the score to 64-55 with 5:48 remaining on another basket from the arc.
Cincinnati (17-4, 6-2) moved within 67-64 with 2:09 left, but Palacios banked in his only 3-pointer of the game with the shot clock winding down to make it 71-64 nearly a minute later.
"I knew it was good the whole way," Pitino said. "You have to remember that (Jihad) Muhammad made one against us the same way. It's tough to get good looks and you have to have a little luck to beat a team like Cincinnati and we got a little luck there." The Bearcats had a number of chances to close within one possession down the stretch but slumped at the free throw line in a similar fashion to its last meeting with Louisville. After making 17-of-30 attempts from the stripe on January 15, the Bearcats shot 65 percent (20-of-31) in this one.
"We need guys to step up and make plays," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "I think they should throw it out of bounds instead of missing two free throws. You are going to miss some, but we need to make more then we are making now."
Dean finished 5-of-12 from the arc - the fifth time in his last six games that he has had at least four 3-pointers - and Palacios made 8-of-10 shots. On the season, Dean is shooting 48 percent (30-of-63) from long-range.
Ellis Myles added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Cardinals, who beat the Bearcats at Freedom Hall for the fourth straight time.
Hicks scored 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds for Cincinnati, which committed 17 turnovers that Louisville turned into 24 points. The Bearcats managed just eight points off the 14 giveaways by the Cardinals.
"They made plays, and we did not make plays," Huggins said. "We played hard, we rebounded, we guarded and I thought that our effort was really good. They drove it at the basket, got fouled and made the free throws. We drove to the basket and missed layups and missed free throws. That has really been the story of the year."
Louisville shot 76 percent (16-of-21) from the line as Cincinnati fell to 0-4 against ranked teams this season.