But there's no time to celebrate when you play in the Big East. Louisville's 71-70 win over the Golden Eagles is ancient history, especially with an experienced St. John's team heading to town Wednesday night.
Though Preston Knowles made four three's and the game-winning assist as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit in the final 5:44 Saturday against Marquette, Pitino was equally pleased with the play of junior center Terrence Jennings.
Jennings, benched in favor of freshman Gorgui Dieng after a loss to Drexel last month, had struggled in recent weeks, particularly on the boards. But Jennings was a key reason Louisville came back to beat the Golden Eagles, grabbing eight rebounds, hitting all four free throw attempts down the stretch and blocking Marquette's final shot.
"I'm hoping this is a springboard for better things from T.J. because he did a lot of great things down the stretch," Pitino said. "I think T.J. has showed a lot of maturity because he was beat out by a freshman and he could have hung his head and complained like a lot of players do. He didn't. He worked hard and got through it.
"In the second half, he made every big play down the stretch. He was a big factor in our comeback. His dad and family were here and I'm sure that helped. And yesterday he had his best practice as a Louisville Cardinal. So he's very motivated right now."
Pitino also expressed confidence in Peyton Siva. Siva struggled mightily against Marquette, and was benched late in the second half for freshman Elisha Justice. Despite missing all five of his field goal attempts, 5 of his ten free throw attempts and committing four turnovers, Pitino stuck up for his sophomore point guard during his pregame press conference Tuesday afternoon.
"If any fan knew him like I know him, [Siva] is someone you root for whether he's having a good game or a bad night," Pitino said. "He was the happiest after the game and didn't play well. He is a work in progress. He's never really been a true point. He got his lofty ranking because he was a great athlete. Now he's becoming a point guard and has gotten significantly better since his freshman year. He's learning what to do and not to do and it takes time."
Louisville, 14-3 and 3-1 in the Big East, now has a chance to continue building momentum in league play with winnable games coming up against St. John's, Providence and West Virginia. Just don't expect Pitino's Cardinals to look past the Red Storm.
"We had to have that game and we have to have this game," Pitino said. "You don't know where the wins are going to come from in this conference. We're going to stick with our game plan of winning two of three games out of our segments. It's going to be very difficult to do but so far so good."
Steve Lavin has built excitement during his first season at St. John's, both on the court and off. The Red Storm are 11-5, 4-2 in the Big East and have won six of their last eight games, including an 18-point win over No. 11 Notre Dame Jan. 16. Off the court, Lavin signed one of the nation's top recruiting classes in November. The Red Storm enter tonight's contest No. 16 in the RPI.
"They deserve their lofty ranking because they have ten seniors, five starters back, and play defense as well as any team in the conference," Pitino said. "Offensively, they're a much improved team. They can hurt you in a number of ways, in transition as well as in the halfcourt."
A veteran team, St. John's turns the ball over only 11.8 times per game and is 16th nationally in turnover margin. There will be an interesting contrast between the two teams Wednesday night as Louisville forces the most turnovers in the Big East (17.9 per game), while St. John's commits the third fewest turnovers per game in the league.
"They've always played great defense and with energy," Pitino said. "Now, I think they're one of the better teams in this league. They have great depth. Malik Booth comes in and is a great sparkplug. They can get in foul trouble and it won't bother them in the least."
Though guard Dwight Hardy leads St. John's in scoring at 15.5, the Red Storm are one of the deepest teams in the league. Fellow seniors Justin Brownlee and D.J. Kennedy also average double figures and are key players for Lavin's squad.
"He's one of the better guards in the league, but it's more than Dwight Hardy," Pitino said. "Brownlee is having a great year, they have a terrific freshman from L.A. Polle. And Kennedy is playing a terrific."
Pitino, who spent part of the day Monday in Huntington, Wva., on a recruiting trip, said his team had a great practice Monday night.
"This team is really grounded because we know who we are," Pitino said. "We know that we have to fight. Remember we were down 18 points at home and there was a reason for that. We weren't playing too well."