Cardinals guard Terry Rozier ended Irvine's upset dreams when he knocked the ball loose from Irvine guard Alex Young to clinch a 57-55 victory at KeyArena.
No. 4 Louisville avoided a major upset against a No. 13-seeded team and advances to play Northern Iowa on Sunday in an East Regional game.
Friday's game was physical, frenetic and wasn't decided until the final ticks. Irvine led by two points with less than a minute left, but Louisville had the last word.
Louisville fans will recall the great play Rozier made at the end as a program making its 41st NCAA appearance avoided an embarrassing loss.
Irvine fans will recall that a foul wasn't called on Rozier, helping end the Anteaters' maybe once-in-a-lifetime trip to the tournament.
Louisville actually wanted a foul called but in the end was very happy it was not.
The situation: Irvine had a good look at an epic upset when, with the score tied and 12 seconds left, Luke Nelson lofted a three-point shot that looked good out of his hand.
However, the ball caromed off the rim and into the corner, where it was retrieved by Louisville's Quentin Snider.
Louisville got bailed out when Irvine's Will Davis II inadvertently knocked Snider out of bounds — a must-call foul.
With nine seconds left, Snider made both ends of a one-and-one to put his team up 57-55.
Louisville was in an enviable spot because it had two fouls to give before Irvine would shoot free throws in the bonus. The plan was to foul twice to leave less time for Irvine to set up for a last chance.
Snider committed the first foul with six seconds left.
Rozier was supposed to give the second foul but, he said later in the locker room, changed his mind.
"I went for the steal instead of the foul," Rozier said.
It appeared as though Rozier accomplished both, bumping shoulders with Young as the ball squirted loose. Young dived for the ball and regained possession, but while still on the floor he threw a desperate pass that banged off the leg of teammate Jaron Martin. Louisville forward Wayne Blackshear scooped up the ball and dribbled downcourt as time expired.
"No sir," Rozier said, "In my humble opinion."
Young was expecting the foul but did not complain about the officiating. "That's not my judgment, he said, "it's the referee's judgment."
The junior guard was more disappointed that a terrific game ended on a turnover instead of a last-second shot.
"It hurts not to even get a shot up," Young said. "Being a point guard and leader on this team, I've got to make sure we're all in the right spot so we can get a shot up in that last possession."
It didn't take long for the crowd at KeyArena to adopt Irvine as a prospective upset darling. Northern Iowa fans cheered because an Irvine win meant avoiding higher-seeded Louisville on Saturday.
Fans became increasingly enamored with the size and play of Irvine's 7-foot-6 center, Mamadou Ndiaye. They hooted every time he touched the ball, and he didn't disappoint.
Ndiaye avoided serious foul trouble and ended up playing 30 minutes, 10 more than his season average. He finished with 12 points, five rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal.
"It was a little tricky," Blackshear said about maneuvering around the tallest player in major college basketball.
Irvine Coach Russell Turner's plan to squeeze tempo and hang with Louisville worked. "Aside from winning that game, that's about as good an outcome as you could have," he said. "To lay it all on the line and be a basket short, that's basketball."
Irvine (21-13) would have rewritten only the final few seconds. Davis led Irvine with 14 points; Nelson had 10.
The Anteaters made it close despite committing 14 turnovers against Louisville's vaunted full-court pressure.
"Yeah," Turner said, "they're a pretty good turnover-creating team."
Irvine also had a hard time containing Blackshear, one of the few holdovers from Louisville's 2013 national championship team.
Blackshear finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, and he had a huge basket to tie the score at 55 with 43 seconds left.
He also bulled inside late against Ndiaye for a basket and foul that led to a three-point play.
"That's a kid who played in a national championship game," Turner said of Blackshear. "He's a national champion. He made a national champion play right there."