Not only did the No. 24 Tigers deliver in all phases Thursday night, they used balanced scoring to beat their longtime rivals.
Joe Jackson and Shaq Goodwin each scored 15 points and Memphis rallied late for a 73-67 upset of the 12th-ranked Cardinals.
Geron Johnson added 13 points, Chris Crawford 12 and Austin Nichols 10 as all five starters scored in double figures to help the Tigers end a four-game losing streak to the defending national champions. Memphis (11-3, 2-1 American Athletic Conference) shot 51 percent (28 of 55) and outrebounded the Cardinals 37-35 in a victory that almost slipped away in the second half.
Trailing 61-55 with 5:26 remaining, the Tigers closed with an 18-6 run led by Jackson, who scored 11 second-half points. His layup on goaltending by Montrezl Harrell put Memphis up 70-67 with 40 seconds left and he followed with a free throw before Goodwin added a dunk in the final second to seal a hard-fought win featuring eight ties and eight lead changes.
"This game was so intense," Crawford said. "Every basket was, like, breathtaking. It's the best game I've ever been in. It was so competitive."
Luke Hancock had a season-high 20 points to lead Louisville (13-3, 2-1).
Memphis improved to 35-53 against Louisville and earned an important win in the first of at least two AAC meetings this season against its longtime foe. The schools have previously squared off as league members in the Metro and Missouri Valley conferences as well as Conference USA. Both teams were in C-USA the last time Memphis beat Louisville, also on the road, in 2005.
What mattered most to Memphis coach Josh Pastner was that his players didn't blink under adversity as they did in last Saturday's loss to Cincinnati.
"This was a great win because of coming off how we played," Pastner said. "The media, the fans were really on us. ... The guys really hung together and made big plays. Players made shots."
Pastner's postgame radio interview was delayed as he jawed with several fans who called his players classless and taunted him about the program's Academic Progress Rate. The coach prolonged the debate by not leaving the floor, vehemently defending his team's graduation rate before finally discussing a satisfying win that took everything the Tigers had.
Memphis was more physical and more aggressive for most of the game but saved its best play for the stretch run to reclaim the lead for good. The Tigers made several big defensive stops to hold the Cardinals scoreless for the final 2:12 and seal a win against their longtime rivals.
The Cardinals missed their third chance to beat a ranked opponent. Louisville shot just 39 percent (25 of 64) and was outscored 42-34 inside.
"This is one of the more frustrating losses I've probably been a part of because we were like right there," said Louisville senior guard Russ Smith, who scored 19 points.
Harrell added 14 points for Louisville, which seemed out of sync after 23 days away from the KFC Yum! Center. The Cardinals were inconsistent for stretches because of bad passes, lost dribbles and inaccurate shooting that left them 25 of 64 from the field (39 percent).
Things would have been worse for the Cardinals without Hancock, who made five of their six baskets during one stretch, including both of his 3-pointers. His 6-of-9 shooting was Louisville's only bright spot during a 13-of-36 half (36 percent) in which it seemed out of sync on its home floor.
But even he struggled in the final minutes, missing a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left and committing a turnover with 5 seconds remaining. That led to Goodwin's game-sealing dunk, and the Tigers achieved a goal they had worked toward all week.
"We've been preaching about our principles (since the Cincinnati loss). Each and every player knows what we are trying to do and what we want to do on offense or defense," Nichols said. "We stuck with those principles pretty well tonight and came out with a win."