Earl Clark had 16 points and 11 rebounds on his 21st birthday to lead No. 20 Louisville to a 69-63 victory over the Panthers on Saturday night.
Terrence Williams had 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists and the Cardinals (13-3, 4-0 Big East) held the Panthers (16-1, 4-1) to just one field goal over the last 8 minutes to win their fifth straight game and stake a claim as the best team in the nation’s best conference.
Jermaine Dixon had a career-high 19 points but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:25 remaining and the Panthers trailing by four points. Sam Young added 14 points for Pittsburgh.
The win was Louisville’s first over a No. 1 team since beating Florida on Dec. 13, 2003.
Clark capped a stirring second-half rally by hitting a jumper from the top of the key with 45 seconds left and Louisville made enough free throws to make it hold up. The Cardinals celebrated by dancing their way off the court as the crowd serenaded Clark with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
The party may just be beginning for Louisville, which won its fifth straight and is starting to play like the team ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll.
The Panthers had risen to the top spot in the rankings for the first time in school history behind 16 straight dominant but largely anonymous wins. Pittsburgh missed a chance to add a little quality to its quantity thanks to a nightmarish final 8:48 when a 55-45 lead evaporated.
Williams started Louisville’s game-ending surge with a pull-up jumper and Clark followed with a shot from the corner. Preston Knowles drilled a 3-pointer before Clark dunked on the break to pull the Cardinals within 55-54 with 6:25 left.
Louisville finally pulled even at 58-all on a jam by Samardo Samuels and Louisville took the lead for good on a layup by Williams with 2:53 to go that put them up 60-58.
The Panthers, who had answered every previous Louisville surge, wilted under the Cardinals’ fullcourt pressure. Pittsburgh turned it over a season-high 20 times, including six by point guard Levance Fields.
Even when the Panthers held on to it, they couldn’t knock down the shots. They shot just 30.6 percent in the second half, including 3-of-15 from 3-point range. Center DeJuan Blair battled foul trouble most of the second half and finished with nine points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes. His absence allowed the Cardinals to hold a 42-38 edge on the boards.
The victory capped a thrilling week for the Cardinals, who beat No. 13 Notre Dame 87-73 in overtime on Monday.
Clark made sure the extra work wasn’t necessary this time, doing a little bit of everything in the second half as the Cardinals hung around long enough for their offense to get going late.
The rivalry has become one of the Big East’s most heated since the Cardinals joined the conference three years ago, with only one of the previous six meetings being decided by more than six points.
Saturday night was no different.
Louisville trailed by as many as 13 points early before using an 11-0 burst midway through the first half to take a 24-23 lead. Still, the Panthers led 32-30 at halftime, surviving the final 5 minutes with Blair and Young both on the bench with two fouls.