MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell had just slammed home a dunk to give the No. 7 Cardinals an eight-point lead with 4:46 to play. Harrell had a career-high 25 points with almost five minutes to pad his total.
The sophomore let his emotions show, yelling and pumping his fist, and the Cardinals had quieted a crowd of more than 18,000 at FedExForum.
And then everything turned.
The No. 21 Memphis Tigers held the Cardinals without a field goal the rest of the game, closed with a 15-1 run and defeated Louisville 72-66 on Saturday to sweep the season series.
Louisville (24-5, 13-3 American Athletic Conference) saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end.
“It’s an extremely disappointing loss because we were in control of our destiny,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Our guys acted like a bunch of junior high kids, not defending national champions. You can’t celebrate and act like junior high kids up seven on the road.”
Asked if he and the team celebrated prematurely, Harrell said, “I play with a lot of energy and aggression. If I celebrated, I do apologize. But that’s just how I play.”
Memphis (22-7, 11-5) was coming off an upset loss at Houston on Thursday and had been taking a lot of criticism for supposedly looking past Houston.
“You try not to listen to all the negativity and the noise, but it’s hard,” said senior guard Michael Dixon, who on Saturday led Memphis with 18 points off the bench, 16 in the second half.
A 3-pointer from senior guard Chris Crawford (12 points, 4-for-5 from 3-point range) broke a 65-65 tie with 1:40 to play. The Tigers reeled off 12 straight points to take a 69-65 lead at 1:03.
“We played with unbelievable passion,” Crawford said. “We’ve got each other’s back. Coach (Josh Pastner) had a lot of confidence in me to keep taking those shots because I haven’t been shooting the ball well lately.”
Louisville missed five 3-pointers in the last minute and finished 4-for-23 from beyond the arc (17.4 percent). Forward Luke Hancock (11 points) went 1-for-6 from 3-point range and guard Russ Smith (19 points) went 2-for-7.
Smith scored just four points in the second half before fouling out near game’s end.
“Geron Johnson played awesome defense against Smith down the stretch,” Dixon said.
Johnson, one of four senior Memphis guards, scored 15 points, to go with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
“We were in desperation mode after losing to Houston,” Johnson said.
Memphis freshman forward Austin Nichols finished with 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Forward Shaq Goodwin scored just five points but grabbed 10 rebounds and tallied four steals, three assists and three blocks.
Memphis led the entire first half, but never by more than seven points. The Tigers carried a 37-31 advantage into halftime despite Smith’s 15 points, three assists and three steals.
“We stopped being aggressive,” Smith said. “We should have kept attacking.”
Memphis shot 49 percent (24-for-49); Louisville finished at 39.7 percent (25-for-63).
“When you hold a team like Louisville below 40 percent, that’s a heck of a job defensively,” Pastner said.
The Cardinals are 12-3 since Jan. 1, losing to Cincinnati and twice to Memphis.
Asked if this loss represented a major setback or was merely a bump in the road, Hancock said, “That’s a great question. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We kind of gave that game away.”
NOTES: Before Saturday’s game, Louisville was second in the nation in turnover margin (plus 6.9) and third in steals (9.7 per game). … Memphis ranked third in the nation in assists (17.8). … The Cardinals lead the series 53-35. They had won four of the last five meetings (the Tigers won in Louisville Jan. 9). … Louisville guard Russ Smith was third in scoring in the AAC (17.7 points per game) and fifth in assists (4.5). … Tigers forward Shaq Goodwin led the league in field goal percentage (61.2) and was fourth in blocks (1.9). … Louisville ranked second in the AAC in 3-point field goal percentage (37.1) and Memphis ranked eighth (33.1). … Memphis and Louisville are two of eight NCAA
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