Russ Smith scored 21 points and Chane Behanan had 20 and No. 4 Louisville ended a four-game losing streak against rival Kentucky with an up-and-down 80-77 victory on Saturday.
Peyton Siva added 19 points as the Cardinals (12-1) won a hard-fought Battle of the Bluegrass. Though the Cardinals trail the series 30-15, their victory followed last spring's 69-61 national semifinal loss to the Wildcats, who went on to win their eighth national championship.
But Louisville had to withstand several charges from Kentucky to do so. The Wildcats trailed 51-34 but outscored the Cardinals 28-14 to get within 65-62 before Smith's two baskets keyed an 8-5 run to give Louisville some space.
Behanan sealed Louisville's win with late two dunks, the final one following his steal of a pass by Archie Goodwin with 18 seconds remaining.
Goodwin scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half for Kentucky (8-4) and Ryan Harrow added 17 points.
Poor foul shooting doomed the Wildcats' comeback. They shot just 11 of 23 (48 percent) from the line, matching their percentage from the field.
Louisville also shot 48 percent from the field but made 17 of 25 from the free throw line to win its seventh straight.
As might be expected from bitter in-state rivals, the early minutes were physical and intense with six ties and five lead changes. There were lineup changes for both teams.
Kentucky started 7-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein alongside 6-10 Nerlens Noel for the first time in an effort to establish a post game against the Cardinals. The Wildcats' move might have been a pre-emptive one with Louisville expected to start 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng, who returned from a seven-game absence with a broken left wrist.
The Cardinals instead started 6-10 Zach Price but Dieng entered the game just 1:43 in and quickly made his presence felt with three rebounds, a block and a dunk that helped give Louisville a 12-10 lead. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the junior soon picked up his second foul that appeared to be committed by Montrezl Harrell.
Dieng pointed that fact out to an official with no success as Alex Poythress made one of two free throws to put the Wildcats up 13-12.
By then Kentucky was starting an 8-0 run helped by Harrow's careful ballhandling that forced the action inside. Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer added 3-pointers as the Wildcats were 7 of 15 from the field at the 10:13 mark.
Louisville was just 6 of 16 at that point but quickly made up for that initial inaccuracy to wipe out an 18-12 deficit. Siva's layup began a 13-2 run led by Behanan, who had a thunderous transition dunk off a steal by Smith, a baseline jumper and another as he fell to the court.
A follow dunk by Noel and Harrow's 3-pointer tied the game at 25 with 4:02 remaining in the first half, but those were Kentucky's last field goals before intermission. Louisville closed with an 11-4 run for a 36-28 lead in a half in which it shot 15 of 31 (48 percent) and scored 22 points in the paint.
Behanan's 11 points and five rebounds led the Cardinals, while Siva added 10 including two 3-pointers. Harrell provided Louisville's biggest boost with five points and four rebounds as Dieng sat out the final 7 minutes.
Harrow's nine first-half points led Kentucky, which closed the half 3 of 12 from the field and shot just 10 of 27 (37 percent). The Wildcats' struggles continued into the early minutes of the second half including a technical foul, a shot clock violation and consecutive turnovers.
Louisville got just four points from those Kentucky mistakes but it helped the Cardinals grab their biggest lead at 51-34 on Siva's three-point play and Smith's steal and layup. The senior point guard pumped his first after the reverse layup over Noel and brought the loudest cheer from the 22,810 that was predominantly Cardinal red with some Kentucky blue.
Kentucky climbed within 51-44 thanks to Wiltjer's consecutive 3-pointers and later scored eight straight points to get within 61-57. The Wildcats got to 77-74 on Goodwin's four-point play with 33.7 seconds left.