Russ Smith ranked Louisville’s 80-77 victory over Kentucky on Saturday as one of the five favorites of his career.
Makes sense, considering he played a key role in ending the No. 4 Cardinals’ four-game losing streak against the rival Wildcats.
Smith scored 21 points, including 5 of Louisville’s final 13, and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Cardinals (12-1) hold off visiting Kentucky (8-4) in an up-and-down game.
The effort came nearly a year after he came off the bench to score 30 in the Cardinals’ 69-62 loss to the Wildcats in Lexington, one of two defeats last season to their in-state rivals that included a national semifinal. Kentucky went on to win its eighth national championship.
‘‘This one probably ranks as one of the top five biggest wins of my life,’’ said the junior guard, whose list includes last season’s NCAA regional final, the round of 16, and Louisville’s two wins that clinched the Big East Conference championship last March.
‘‘We know where we messed up and we know the mistakes we made, but at the end of the day it’s a win,’’ he added. “It’s not a conference win but it’s a great nonconference win. It’s a great win for the city. We’re actually more happy for our fans than for ourselves . . . I guess revenge is the word, but it feels good beating the team that knocked you out of the Final Four.’’
Especially since that team, Kentucky, resides about 80 miles east and had recently owned the Battle of the Bluegrass. Louisville now has bragging rights, and Smith had help in getting them.
Sophomore forward Chane Behanan had 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals, including a steal of Archie Goodwin’s pass that led to his dunk with 18 seconds remaining that sealed the victory for Louisville.
Duke 90, Santa Clara 77 — Kevin Foster scored 29 points and the visiting Broncos gave the top-ranked Blue Devils fits before Seth Curry helped Duke pulled away for the win.
Foster scored 18 points in the first half for upset-minded Santa Clara (11-3).
The Broncos led, 45-41, with 16:30 left before they went cold while Duke (12-0) responded with a 26-5 run keyed by Curry, who had 12 of his season-high 31 points during the spurt.
Michigan 88, Central Michigan 73 — Trey Burke had 22 points and 10 assists and the No. 2 Wolverines (13-0) closed their nonconference slate with a rout of the visiting Chippewas (7-6).
Kansas 89, American 57 — Travis Releford scored 19 points and the No. 6 Jayhawks (11-1) hit 13 of their first 18 3-point attempts to roll over the visiting Eagles (4-9). Elijah Johnson had 12 points and was 4 of 5 from behind the arc as Kansas finished 15 of 24 from long distance.
Syracuse 57, Alcorn State 36 — C.J. Fair scored 13 points, Trevor Cooney added 12, all in the second half to key a late surge, and the No. 9 Orange (11-1) got past the Braves (2-13) in the final game of the Gotham Classic in Syracuse.
It was the 901st win for Orange coach Jim Boeheim, one behind Bob Knight for second place all time among Division 1 men’s coaches. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski leads with 939 wins.
Ohio State 87, Chicago State 44 — Deshaun Thomas scored 17 points and the No. 10 Buckeyes (10-2) breezed past the visiting Cougars in their final tuneup before beginning Big Ten play. Quinton Pippen, a nephew of ex-Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, had 12 points for Chicago State (3-12).
Illinois 81, Auburn 79 — Tracy Abrams scored a career-high 27 points and the No. 12 Illini edged the Tigers at the United Center in Chicago.
Frankie Sullivan buried a three for Auburn (5-7) to make it 68-67 with 4:29 remaining. But Illinois (13-1) hit 13 of 18 free throws the rest of the way for a rare win at the United Center, where it had dropped three straight and five of six after winning 18 in a row. Sullivan finished with 21 points for Auburn.
Florida 78, Air Force 61— Kenny Boynton snapped a shooting slump with three 3-pointers in the second half and the No. 14 Gators (9-2) pulled away to beat the Falcons (8-3) in the second game of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, Fla.
Creighton 87, Evansville 70 — Doug McDermott scored 14 of his 29 points in a 6½-minute stretch of the second half when the No. 16 Bluejays (12-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley) blew away the visiting Purple Aces (7-6, 0-1).
Butler 68, Vanderbilt 49 — Rotnei Clarke hit six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points and the No. 18 Bulldogs (10-2) shook off a sluggish start to rout the host Commodores (5-6) for their seventh straight win.
North Carolina 79, UNLV 73 — P.J. Hairston scored 15 points in his first start to help the Tar Heels edge the No. 20 Runnin’ Rebels at Chapel Hill, N.C.
Dexter Strickland added a season-high 16 points for North Carolina (10-3), which led by 15 points in the first half and by 9 at the break. But North Carolina had to turn away a second-half surge by UNLV (11-2) to earn the program’s 63d straight home win against nonconference opponents. Hairston started in place of second-leading scorer Reggie Bullock, who sat out with a mild concussion suffered in Thursday’s practice.
N.C. State 84, Western Michigan 68 — C.J. Leslie scored all of his 19 points in the final 23 minutes and Richard Howell added 18 on 8-of-8 shooting to lead the No. 23 Wolfpack (10-2) past the visiting Broncos (8-5) for their sixth straight win.
Kansas State 52, Missouri-KC 44 — Rodney McGruder scored 17 points, Thomas Gipson had 13 points and six rebounds, and the No. 25 Wildcats (10-2) struggled to get past past the visiting ’Roos (4-9).