Clark leads way as Louisville hands Pitt first loss

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Pittsburgh's perfect season unraveled in a perfect storm of missed shots, missed opportunities and one exquisitely timed birthday party by Louisville's Earl Clark.

The junior forward scored 16 points -- including the clinching jumper with 45 seconds remaining -- and grabbed 11 rebounds on his 21st birthday to lift the 20th-ranked Cardinals over the No. 1 Panthers, 69-63 on Saturday night.

"This game will help," said Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields. "Nobody wants to lose, but it's always good to get a loss on yourself so you know you're not unbeaten -- so you know somebody can beat you."

Clark and the surging Cardinals (13-3, 4-0) left no doubt.

Louisville smothered the Panthers (16-1, 4-1) over the game's final 8 minutes, holding Pittsburgh to 1-of-16 shooting down the stretch to end Pittsburgh's first run at the top of the poll. The loss left No. 2 Wake Forest as the only unbeaten team in Division I.

"Give them credit, they beat us," said Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, after his team turned the ball over a season-high 20 times against Louisville's fullcourt pressure. "We played well, they played well. They made shots down the stretch."

The biggest of them coming from Clark, who shrugged off a sluggish first half to lead Louisville on a 24-8 burst over the final 8:55 and lift the Cardinals to their first win over a No. 1 team since beating Florida on Dec. 13, 2003.

The normally modest Clark celebrated afterward by standing at midcourt next to coach Rick Pitino, blushing a little as 20,000 of his new best friends at Freedom Hall serenaded him with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday."

"It's a great win, it just happens to be on my birthday," Clark said.

Maybe, but Louisville's most talented player isn't the only one coming of age. So is his suddenly red-hot team.

"We made great plays," said Pitino. "This is the fourth game in a row right now where we did really smart things down the stretch."

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, but the Panthers battled foul trouble all night. Center DeJuan Blair had just nine points and 10 rebounds in 20 foul-plagued minutes.

"We talked about staying out of foul trouble and that was the difference," Jamie Dixon said.

The Panthers had risen to the top spot in the rankings behind 16 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.

Terrence Williams scored 20 points and started Louisville's surge with a pull-up jumper. 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 left.

The Panthers, who'd answered every previous Louisville surge, wilted late as the Cardinals' pressure simply wore them down.

"When you press the whole game, you're going to have some turnovers and I thought we had too many," Dixon said. "At the end of the day, 20 is too much."

Even when the Panthers held on to the ball, 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. Blair's absence due to foul trouble allowed the Cardinals to hold a 42-38 edge on the boards.

The victory capped a thrilling week for Louisville, who beat Notre Dame (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP)
87-73 in overtime on Monday.

Clark made sure the extra work wasn't necessary this time, shrugging off a sluggish first half in which he made just 2-of-10 field goals by doing a little bit everything in the second half as the Cardinals hung around long enough for their offense to get going late.

"I've just got to keep trusting in myself, keep going and things will come to me," Clark said. "When things aren't falling I had to get more aggressive."

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, with the Cardinals making the plays when it mattered to serve notice it may be the team to beat in the nation's toughest conference.

"We are strong-willed and a strong-minded team," Williams said. "For us to be 4-0 and beat great competition and the No. 1 team, it speaks volumes. We're not done yet until we hold up that last trophy."