"I think what these guys are doing more than anything else is they are playing extremely hard," Pitino said. "When they get a lead they don't back off. I think they are very humble and hard working. They are focused on the scouting report. Everything that last year's team was not, in terms of focus and knowing the scouting report. Last year's team had much more talent, but this team has much more focus and humility."
The Cardinals humbled their sixth straight opponent to start the season Saturday, throttling South Alabama 97-70 in front of 21,048 at the KFC Yum! Center.
Sophomore guard Mike Marra scored 23 points, including 14 in the first 10 minutes of the game, to lead UofL (6-0), which has outscored its first six foes by an average margin of 21.2 points per game (87.5 to 62.3).
"We've definitely got a lot of chemistry on this team," said junior center Terrence Jennings, who totaled 10 points and eight rebounds while blocking three shots.
Sophomore point guard Peyton Siva, who Pitino praised in his post-game press conference for his play and leadership so far this season, added 15 points and four assists. Louisville finished with 20 assists and a season-low eight turnovers against a Jaguars team that was picked to finish third in the Sun Belt Conference East Division in the league's preseason poll.
"We wanted to get 25 points on our hustle stats tonight and we got 30," Pitino said. "We got 10 loose basketballs, we took six charges and we got three baseline traps. We won the hustle stats and reached just about every goal we had for this game, so I'm real proud of the guys. They have been a focused group all along and they're still getting better.
"They get very disappointed like the coaches are (when they don't play well) in every phase. It's like having 12 coaches out there. They want to do the right things defensively. They want to do the right things. They have totally bought into every aspect of sharing the basketball. You've got a lot of guys out there who are acting like coaches, (and) this is the first time in a long time that I've seen that in this modern generation."
The Cards also equaled their best start in the last 14 seasons - the 2005-06 team also opened 6-0 - thanks to 12 points and 14 rebounds from sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles.
"Is that Hakeem (Olajuwon) or Rakeem?" junior guard Chris Smith, who added 11 points off the bench, shouted in the Louisville locker room afterwards.
Early on, though, Cards fans had to be asking themselves, "Is that Mike Marra or Larry Bird?" Marra hit two free throws and four three-pointers in the first 10 minutes. His last two came back-to-back and gave UofL a 27-13 lead.
The Cards cruised from there. They led 48-30 at halftime, thanks to 51.4 percent shooting (18 for 35) and a 20-4 advantage in points in the paint. UofL also outrebounded USA 21-15 in the first 20 minutes, which explained its 12-0 bulge in second-chance points.
Marra added nine points in the second half, but only one three-pointer.
"I was just tired (in the second half)," Marra said. "I couldn't get the ball to the rim. I was just trying to create for other players."
Which pleased Pitino.
"The good thing about Mike, you could see that his stroke was obviously off in the second half, so what did he do? He immediately ball-faked and went to the rim," Pitino said. "He immediately passed the ball. He's just a very, very smart player. Like I said the other day in our press conference, he's taken over where (David) Padgett left off in terms of knowing the game and knowing the scouting report. He didn't have his shot in the second half, so he had to do other things to make the team better."
The Cards shot 51.4 percent from the field (36 for 70) from the field, while holding the Jaguars (2-5) to 35.1 percent (20 for 57) shooting.
"Louisville is supposed to be in a down year, but they're in no such thing," South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow said. "I vote on the Top 25 every week and that may turn out to be one of his best teams. They play so hard and very good together, they are not selfish. They are experienced in the positions they have to be experienced in."
The Cards next host San Francisco at 7 p.m. Wednesday night before next Saturday's showdown against UNLV.
"Outside of Duke I think this is the best basketball team I've watched this year," Pitino said of the Runnin Rebels.