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Updated: Sunday, February 6, 2005 12:49 AM EST
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(9) Louisville 77, UAB 73

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Ticker) -- Larry O'Bannon provided steady leadership to help spoil a Saturday night celebration in Birmingham.

O'Bannon scored 21 points as No. 9 Louisville won its ninth consecutive game, 77-73, over Alabama-Birmingham in a Conference USA matchup.

The Cardinals (20-3, 8-1 C-USA) chalked up their third straight 20-win season and are off to their best start after 23 games since 1993-1994.

"There are a lot of difficult crowds in the nation," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "But this is as good of a home court crowd as you'll find in college basketball. A few years ago we would have no shot at winning this game."

Ellis Myles made a layup with five minutes to play to give Louisville a 70-65 lead. But Donell Taylor and Marques Lewis scored on consecutive buckets and Demario Eddins sank a pair of free throws that put the Blazers in front, 71-70, with 1:44 left.

O'Bannon buried a 3-pointer with 99 seconds remaining, giving Louisville a 73-71 advantage before Eddins tied the game for UAB 27 seconds later when he scored in traffic in the lane.

Louisville clinched the win with two free throws apiece from Francisco Garcia and Juan Palacios, giving the Cardinals a four-point cushion with eight seconds remaining.

"Our respect for them is off the charts," Pitino said. "They're tough-minded and if you don't play every possession against them, they can have runs that just put you away. If you take a bad shot, they make you pay more than anybody in college basketball."

Garcia scored 19 points and Palacios added 10 for Louisville, which has won 14 out of 15 and solidified its hold on first place in the conference standings.

Eddins scored 18 points and Taylor had 16 for UAB (16-6, 6-3), which saw its three-game winning streak end.

"It was right there for the taking," Blazers coach Mike Anderson said. "A play here, a play there, a loose ball here, a defensive stop there and if we could have gotten to the free throw line, maybe that would have helped as well. I'll take the blame on this one. I just couldn't get our guys some rest when they needed to."

The Blazers ended the first half on a 19-7 run, capped by a layup by Brandon Tobias, and led 45-43 at intermission by shooting 55 percent (18-of-33) from the floor.

© 2005 STATS, Inc