If there were still those who doubted whether the University of Cincinnati Bearcats deserved their No. 13 ranking, they were silenced Thursday night.

UC built a 17-point lead early in the second half, saw Louisville storm back to go up three with 5:01 left and then staged a comeback of its own to post a stirring 69-66 victory over the Cardinals before 22,644 fans at KFC Yum! Center.

“We expected to win,” said UC coach Mick Cronin. “That’s why we got on the bus last night. We don’t care what other people think about us. We don’t let other people define us.”

The Bearcats (20-2, 9-0 American Athletic Conference) have won 13 straight games. If they beat South Florida on Sunday they will likely land in the Top 10 next week. No. 12 Louisville (17-4, 6-2) saw a four-game winning streak come to an end.

After the Cardinals took a 3-point lead on Russ Smith’s long 3-pointer, UC outscored them, 8-2, and put the game away on four free throws by Sean Kilpatrick in the final 7 seconds.

It was the second straight game in which the Bearcats squandered a big lead in the second half only to come back and win with Kilpatrick on the line. The senior guard scored 28 points and made all 11 of his free throw attempts.

“I just tell myself to focus,” Kilpatrick said. “There’s 22,000 people here trying to go against me. I was just trying to tell myself to focus and really lock in.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 18 to lead Louisville.

Justin Jackson, who started and played 37 minutes on an left ankle that he sprained Sunday, tipped in a missed shot to put UC ahead by one with 1:41 left. Moments later, Jackson stripped Harrell and came up with a steal. Terry Rozier then fouled Kilpatrick, who made both free throws with seven seconds left to put UC up by three. After two Terry Rozier free throws got the Cardinals within one, Kilpatrick made two more from the line with six seconds left.

Luke Hancock’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was no good for the Cardinals.

“We just keep playing Bearcat basketball,” said Jackson, who scored 11 points with nine rebounds and two blocked shots. “We keep pushing and pushing, keep doing what we do best. We got away from playing defense a little bit and then we got back to it.”

After seeing Louisville close the first half on 7-0 run to get within eight points at halftime, UC responded by starting the second half on a roll, making six of its first seven shots and outscoring Louisville, 16-7, in the first four minutes to take a 44-27 lead.

But then the Cardinals turned up the heat, forcing four straight turnovers and going on a 14-0 run to cut UC’s lead to three in just over two minutes. By then, the crowd, which had been quiet for most of the night, got into the game in a big way.

The Bearcats, who committed 21 turnovers here last year in a 67-51 loss, struggled against the Cardinals pressure again with 20 turnovers but compensated with one of their best offensive games of the season. They shot 48.9 percent for the game, 63.2 percent in the second half, and made 17 of 18 free throws while out-rebounding Louisville, 36-25.

“The key against them and Memphis is you’ve got to make them play five on five,” Cronin said. “If you turn the ball over and they get on those runs they’re going to convert on the break or they’re going to kick it out for threes. We tried to run good offense and keep it in the half-court and make them attack us five on five. And we were much more efficient on offense. We didn’t score on them last year.”