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No. 4 Louisville stays close with top-ranked Kentucky but can't get past rival in 58-50 loss

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Louisville turned in the defensive performance it needed to take down top-ranked Kentucky.

Problem was, the No. 4 Cardinals couldn't work together on the other end as they ran into a longer, deeper version of their defensive selves in a 58-50 loss Saturday to their in-state rival.

Louisville (11-1) managed just one assist, which STATS said is the first time the Cardinals have had fewer than four assists in a game in data going back to the 1996-97 season. The Cardinals forced 18 turnovers but shot 15 of 58 from the field (26 percent), including just one of their first 12 3-pointers.

"We knew that we would play good defense," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We knew we'd force turnovers. It was a question of whether we could score, and the answer was we didn't."

Kentucky (13-0) scored its second-fewest points this season and both schools combined for the series' lowest combined total since 1922. But the Cardinals produced just 14 points off Kentucky's mistakes in losing for the seventh time in the series' last eight games.

Louisville's defense kept it close but the Cardinals didn't lead after going up 13-12 with 6:57 left in the first half.

They trailed 35-32 with 8:48 to play after Wayne Blackshear's steal and subsequent free throws, but never came closer. Louisville forced just two turnovers the rest of the way, the final one coming with 12 seconds left and the outcome decided.

Pitino said Kentucky's depth and length wore down his Cardinals late, a thought echoed by guard Terry Rozier. The Wildcats' reserves outscored Louisville's 27-3.

"They're the better team and they used their whole team," said Rozier, who led Louisville with 15 points and eight rebounds. "They did what they can do. We just weren't ready for it. Their size is definitely an advantage."

Pitino called Kentucky "one of the greatest defensive teams I've seen in my 40 years" but Louisville's shooting struggles were nothing new. They came into the game shooting 44 percent and 29 percent on 3-point attempts. Louisville hits its last two 3-pointers of the game to finish 3 of 14 (21 percent).

"We're up and down," Blackshear said. "Some days we'll look great and some days we'll look bad. We've just got to be consistent with it."

PHOTO: Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, right, attempts to block a shot by Louisville's Montrezl Harrell during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday Dec. 27, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. Kentucky won 58-50. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, right, attempts to block a shot by Louisville's Montrezl Harrell during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday Dec. 27, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. Kentucky won 58-50. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Louisville's preseason All-America forward Montrezl Harrell said his team must avoid "going through the motions on the offensive end" and that the Cardinals haven't executed at a high level on offense since beating Indiana 94-74 on Dec. 9.

"We've really hit some dry spots in our offense and we can't have that," said Harrell, who had nine points and eight rebounds in his return from a one-game suspension. "When we go into games we know that our defense is what really causes us to really get out on the break and get stops but still we can't have dry spells in our offense."

That wasn't a problem for Kentucky freshman guard Tyler Ulis, who shook off a bloody cut above his right eye to score 12 key second-half points to finish with a career-high 14.

His two big 3-pointers gave the Wildcats a cushion, and fellow freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles joined in to help stake Kentucky to a 50-38 lead with 4:43 left.

Towns had 10 points and nine rebounds, while Booker added nine points for Kentucky.

Louisville has one more non-conference game before beginning its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is now the Cardinals' main focus.

"A loss right before this is probably good for us," Rozier said. "Maybe it will humble each and every one of us and we'll be ready for ACC play."

TIP-INS

Kentucky: The Wildcats won for the 31st time in the last 33 games as The Associated Press' top team.

Louisville: Kentucky ended Louisville's 35-game nonconference home winning streak dating to December 2010. The last loss was to Kentucky.

UP NEXT:

Kentucky: Hosts Mississippi on Jan. 6.

Louisville: Hosts Long Beach State on Tuesday.

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