By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
As far as University of Cincinnati guard Tony Bobbitt was concerned, the season was on the line Saturday.
"We knew today if we did not win, we were done," Bobbitt said.
Faced with that kind of pressure, the 17th-ranked Bearcats responded in a way they haven't all year. They played their best defense of the season, got a last-second shot from Field Williams to send the game into overtime, and then willed themselves a 66-61 victory over 10th-ranked Louisville before a sellout crowd of 13,176 at Fifth Third Arena.
It was the kind of win against a quality opponent that the Bearcats have seemed incapable of producing in recent weeks, the kind where they have to dig down and find the inner resolve that many - including their head coach - wondered if they had.
"Today was our best half-court defensive effort that we've had all year," UC coach Bob Huggins said. "We guarded like we actually wanted to win the game today."
The victory ended a two-game losing streak for UC (18-5 overall, 9-3 in Conference USA) and kept the Bearcats alive in the conference race.
They've still lost four of their last seven, but now they can face the final four games of the regular season with renewed confidence.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Huggins said, "but we're certainly not out of the conference race now."
Louisville (17-6, 7-5) has lost three in a row and five of its last six.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, in a grand bit of hyperbole, called it a "great college basketball game," and maybe it was if you like defense and poor shooting.
Louisville shot 35 percent to UC's 34.3 percent. At halftime, UC led 20-15, both teams having produced their lowest points totals of the season for the first half.
"Who would have thought in February that Louisville and Cincinnati would be 20-15 at halftime?" Huggins said. "But you do what you've got to do to try to survive."
The Cardinals were in a position to win in the closing minutes, largely because of sophomore forward Francisco Garcia, who scored a career-high 27 points, 20 in the second half and overtime.
A Nate Daniels 3-pointer gave the Cardinals a 54-52 lead with 16.7 seconds left. Huggins called timeout and set up a play for guard Field Williams, who emerged from his long shooting slump to lead UC with 18 points.
The Bearcats worked the ball into Jason Maxiell in the low post. Maxiell was double-teamed and passed out to Bobbitt, who found Williams on the left wing.
Williams dribbled past Louisville's Alhaji Mohammed and knocked in a jump shot with .2 of a second left to send the game into overtime.
"I really wanted to catch it and shoot," Williams said, "but he was closing out so fast, I had to take a dribble and luckily it went in."
Eric Hicks, who had a career-high 14 rebounds, 10 points and six blocked shots, scored five points in overtime and Bobbitt connected on a 3-pointer to give UC a 62-58 lead with 1:38 to go. Bobbitt's two free throws with 24.8 seconds left sealed the victory.
After the game, Bobbitt walked into the interview clapping his hands together, a huge weight having been lifted from the Bearcats' shoulders.
"We got knocked down," Bobbitt said. "So now we're back. We've got four more games left. We've still got a chance to win this conference."
Team rebounds - 2.
Team rebounds - 6.
3-pointers - UL 9-25 (Garcia 5-11, Dean 2-6, O'Bannon 1-5, Daniels 1-3), UC 6-21 (White 0-2, F.Williams 3-7, N.Williams 0-3, Bobbitt 3-9). Technicals - None. Officials - Hillary, Randall, Higgins. Attendance - 13,176.
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