Despite a blowout of Houston three weeks ago at home, Louisville knew that the return game wouldn't be so easy. And it wasn't.

Russ Smith scored 17 points and No. 14 Louisville weathered a second half Cougar rally to beat Houston 77-62 on Wednesday night.

Luke Hancock added 15 points, hitting eight of nine free throws, while Montrezl Harrell also had 15 for the Cardinals (19-4, 8-2 American).

The Cardinals shot just under 70 percent from the field in the first half, including 6 of 10 from behind the arc in building a 19-point halftime lead. Louisville finished the game shooting 56 percent.

"We got the ball in some spots that really hurt them," Smith said about the first half shooting. "Our guys were hurting them and making shots. When the ball goes in, sometimes it's an illusion of how you are really playing. Then, the ball didn't go in and they made their run."

TaShawn Thomas had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Jherrod Stiggers added 14 points to lead the Cougars (11-12, 3-7), who dropped their fifth straight and have lost seven of their last eight games. Danuel House had 11 for Houston.

Houston shot 46 percent from the field but committed 14 turnovers, leading to 24 points for the Cardinals.

"We can't turn the ball over," Houston coach James Dickey said. "They're the best in the country at converting turnovers into points. They had 24 points off turnovers, and eight points off rebounds. You cannot contribute to a quality team, and they're certainly championship caliber."

Trailing 53-33 with 16 minutes remaining, Houston used an 18-7 run over the next 8 1-2 minutes to close within nine on Tione Womack's runner with 7:37 left. Stiggers had eight points in the run.

"In the second half, we woke up," Thomas said. "In the first half, I feel like they were playing harder than us and in the second half we kind of woke up and realized that we can play with them. We started to come back, but just didn't have enough to get the lead back."