Louisville sank 69 percent of its first-half shots last night, including 15 of 16 in one incomprehensible stretch, and apparently credited itself with the victory while leading George Mason by 27 points with 16:56 left. That assumption nearly cost the Cardinals the game.

Those among the Patriot Center crowd of 4,878 who headed home early will find it hard to believe, but the home team bounced back with an aggressive pressure defense and were shooting for a tie before dropping an 85-80 decision. The Patriots had trailed 60-33.

Mike Hargett scored 16 of his 24 points in the Patriots' second-half surge, including a three-pointer that closed the gap to 80-77 with 1:52 remaining. When Louisville's LaBradford Smith missed an easy layup, George Mason had a chance to tie, but Jamel Perkins's three-point bid was off target and Robert Dykes missed the follow.

Louisville's Everick Sullivan, the game's high scorer with 31 points, missed the first end of a one-and-one with 44 seconds left, but Dykes lost the rebound out of bounds. Fouled again 11 seconds later, Sullivan made both free throws and the Patriots (2-7) were losers for the sixth straight time.

"I'm satisfied with the effort, but not the result," said George Mason Coach Ernie Nestor. "We played with a lot of heart and put our bodies on the line more than in all our other games combined. But we didn't win and we're playing to win. We should be playing at that level every night, not just get torqued up because it's the Louisville Cardinals.

Louisville, a 20-point loser to Indiana in its opener, won its fifth in a row as it tries to record a 47th consecutive winning season, longest streak in college basketball.

"I'd rather have a big cushion than have to play from behind," Cardinals Coach Denny Crum said. "But you have to learn to maintain your intensity and do what got you the lead, instead of doing some of the things we did.

"That concerned me coming in, because we're not a big physical team, and the way they dominated the boards, it's a good thing we did shoot so well."

George Mason had 41 rebounds to the Cardinals' 23. But a 42 percent shooting effort wasn't good enough when Louisville hit 63 percent.

While making 20 of 29 the first 20 minutes, Louisville sank seven of eight from three-point range. Sullivan made seven of eight shots, including all four three-point tries, and had 18 points at halftime.

The Patriots had not lost six straight since the 1979-80 season and Nestor, in an effort to shake things up, sat both Hargett and Dykes on the bench at the start, for the first time this season. Hargett responded by scoring 24 points in only 22 minutes and became George Mason's 16th 1,000-point scorer, with 1,014.

American 70, Santa Clara 69: The Eagles, led by Craig Sedmak's 23 points and 11 rebounds, blew most of a 10-point lead but survived in Santa Clara, Calif.

Santa Clara's James Renfro missed two short jump shots in the final 11 seconds. American (5-4) missed on the front end of three one-and-one free throw opportunities in the final 46 seconds, and the Eagles were scoreless the final two minutes. The Broncos are 7-5.

Loyola (Md.) 88, UMBC 65: DeMatha High's Tracy Bergan led the Greyhounds (5-4) with 21 points and a career-high six steals. The hosts fell to 1-8.