Padgett makes three of four late free throws to seal win

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Louisville couldn't be playing much better in February. The Cardinals can only hope it leads to a great March -- and maybe, April, too.

David Padgett bounced back from a rare poor game to make three of four free throws in the final 32.1 seconds and Louisville (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) moved back into a first-place tie in the Big East, holding on to beat Pittsburgh 75-73 Sunday for its seventh consecutive victory.

Padgett finished with 21 points and reserve Edgar Sosa had 15 of his 18 points in the first half as Louisville (22-6, 12-3) tied Georgetown (22-4, 12-3) for the conference lead and became the first visiting team to win twice at Pitt since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002. Pitt is 94-10 there.

Sam Young and DeJuan Blair scored 20 points each for Pitt (19-8, 7-7), which once was 15-2 but has since skidded into an eighth-place tie in the Big East by losing three in a row and six of 10. Pitt had lost three straight only once previously in coach Jamie Dixon's six seasons, to Villanova, West Virginia and Connecticut in February 2005.

Louisville, positioning itself for a high seed in the Big East tournament, won its ninth in 10 games and improved to 8-2 on the road. The Cardinals have won their last 12 games in February, seven this month.

"I do," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said when asked if he thinks these Cardinals have a deep tournament run in them. "I think we have depth and we execute well, and that's the key. Padgett just helped everything offensive and defensively. He's like having a coach on the floor. Generally you don't see 7-footers do that, show that much leadership ability."

Last season, Louisville's 66-53 upset win over then-No. 7 Pitt propelled the Cardinals to a six-game winning streak to end the regular season and an NCAA tournament berth. The NCAA looks to be a lock for the Cardinals this season, but Padgett likes how they're playing well again when the games really count, especially on the road.

"This is a tough place to play and their crowd really seemed to be going today," Padgett said.

Padgett came back with a strong game -- 9-of-13 shooting with six rebounds in 28 minutes -- after being limited by foul problems to one shot and one point in 17 minutes during a 61-50 win over Syracuse on Monday. He averaged 16.3 points in the Cardinals' previous three games, after missing 10 games early in the season with a broken kneecap.

Pitt never led in the second half -- the Cardinals led by as many as eight -- but Blair got the Panthers back to within a point at 71-70 by making two free throws with 21.6 seconds remaining. After Padgett responded by making both ends of a 1-and-1, Blair tried to score inside and missed with 7 seconds left when Pitt needed a 3-pointer to force overtime.

"We didn't want to give up the 3 there," Pitino said, recalling Ronald Ramon's buzzer-beating 3 to beat West Virginia 55-54 on Feb. 7. "They were taking what they could get there."

Ramon did hit a long but meaningless 3 for Pitt just ahead of the buzzer, after Andre McGee rebounded a missed free throw, was fouled and sank both foul shots with 5 seconds remaining to make it 75-70.

Point guard Levance Fields scored eight points in his first start since breaking a foot Dec. 30, but Pitt lost for only the second time in its last 18 home games.

Still, Pitino thinks the Panthers are an NCAA team because of their strong RPI rating and quality wins over Duke and Georgetown.

"This conference fries everybody," he said.

Fields is certain Pitt will make it to the tournament despite its slide, especially now that he is back.

"We've got to find a way," he said. "We're right there. This is a resilient bunch and I think this is going to turn, and I think we deserve it. If we keep pushing, something good is going to happen."

Pitt has four games remaining, at home against Cincinnati on Wednesday and DePaul on March 9 and on the road against Syracuse on March 1 and West Virginia two days later.

"I think we're going to take off as a team," Young said. "That motivates me more than these losses. These losses are going to be a stepping stone for us."

Louisville, which shot 57.7 percent (30-of-52), fell behind 16-12 after Pitt went on a 9-0 run, but the Cardinals came back with its own 9-0 run to take a 21-16 lead. It was Louisville's 41st run of 8-0 or more in its 28 games.

Sosa's effective shooting helped the Cardinals open the game's biggest lead at eight points, at 44-36 early in the second half. He made six of eight shots in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Sosa, averaging 7.9 points, didn't score in the second half until his 3-pointer with 9:02 remaining keyed a 10-3 run that made it 59-51. Derrick Caracter added an important basket during the run, rebounding Sosa's miss with one hand before scoring on a putback for a 54-51 lead. Sosa followed with his 3, and Padgett scored inside.

Pitt came back to get within three at 61-58 on Blair's three-point play. Juan Palacios' only five points of the game were a key after that, as he twice scored inside and added a free throw as the Cardinals took a 68-62 lead with 2:20 to play.