Not only were the Cards coming off a huge victory over Cincinnati, but they also played without starting point guard Taquan Dean during the second half against a hungry Tennessee squad coming off a bitter loss earlier in the week against Kentucky.
And for the first 32 minutes of the game, it looked like the Vols were poised to spring the upset and end the Cardinals 14 game winning.
Out played, out hustled, and badly out rebounded during the first 20 minutes of action, Louisville still trailed just 28-26 at the break.
The Cards got no production in the first half from Dean, who was limited by a groin injury suffered earlier in the week.
Playing without Dean in the second half, Tennessee jumped out to a seven point lead midway through the second half.
That's when sophomore Francisco Garcia and the Cardinal defense turned up the heat on the young Vols and took charge of the game down the stretch keyed by a 12-0 run that gave Louisville a 5 point lead with 8:28 remaining.
"The difference in the game was our second half flurry created by our press," Pitino said. "And we had a great player in Francisco Garcia who took over the game in the second half. This was a big time road victory when things weren't going our way."
Behind 15 second half points from Garcia, Louisville opened an 8 point lead with under four minutes remaining in the game and held on with some clutch free throw shooting from freshman Brandon Jenkins, Luke Whitehead, and Dean, who entered the game with under 30 seconds to go and hit two key free throws.
"In the second half, Louisville picked up the pressure and got into us a little bit more," Buzz Peterson said. "Give Louisville credit for keeping Scooter McFadgon at bay and they beat us on rebounding late in the game. There was one stretch in the second half that was the difference. Francisco Garcia is a good player who made big plays."
Jenkins, who deserves credit for an outstanding effort in Dean's place, finished with 4 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and no turnovers while playing excellent defense against C.J. Watson in the second half.
"I was surprised [when Taquan didn't play]," Jenkins said. "But I was pretty confident and did everything I do in practice. I knew we were going to pull it out when we got our press going and turned the pressure up."
But the story of the second half for Louisville was it's fierce defensive effort and unbelievable turnaround effort on the boards, out rebounding the Vols 27-12 after the break.
Garcia finished with 24 points, while Whitehead was the only other Cardinal in double figures with 13.
Brandon Crump led the Vols with 16 points, and C.J. Watson finished with 15, most coming during the first 20 minutes. Scooter McFagdon, who entered the contest averaging nearly 20 points and was coming off a 33 point effort against Kentucky last week, was held to just 10 points.
And despite hitting just 4-23 three pointers, and 39 percent for the game, Louisville won its 15th straight win since dropping its season opener to Iowa.
"They are great defensively," ESPN anaylst Jay Bilas said of the Cardinals. "They won this game because of their half court defense."
LOUISVILLE (15-1) Whitehead 4-7 5-6 13, Garcia 9-20 3-5 24, O'Bannon 2-10 3-3 7, Dartez 1-4 0-0 2, Dean 0-2 2-2 2, Tinch 0-0 0-0 0, Diakite 0-0 0-0 0, Jenkins 1-2 2-4 4, Gianiny 0-0 0-0 0, Mohammed 3-4 1-2 8, Daniels 0-2 0-0 0, George 2-5 1-4 5. Totals 22-56 17-26 65.
TENNESSEE (10-5) Crump 6-14 4-4 16, Wingate 0-0 0-0 0, McFadgon 3-15 3-4 10, Winchester 3-6 0-0 6, Watson 6-9 1-4 15, Herndon 0-0 2-2 2, Asumnu 2-3 0-0 4, Bradshaw 0-0 0-0 0, Hendrix 2-4 1-3 5, Albrecht 1-1 1-2 4. Totals 23-52 12-19 62.
Halftime- Tennessee 28-26. 3-Point goals- Louisville 4-23 (Garcia 3-8, Mohammed 1-2, Jenkins 0-1, Daniels 0-1, George 0-1, Dean 0-2, Whitehead 0-2, O'Bannon 0-6), Tennessee 4-13 (Watson 2-2, Albrecht 1-1, McFadgon 1-8, Crump 0-1, Winchester 0-1). Fouled out- None. Rebounds- Louisville 34 (George 8), Tennessee 38 (Hendrix 12). Assists- Louisville 16 (Dartez 4), Tennessee 16 (Winchester 5). Total fouls- Louisville 21, Tennessee 21. A- 15,086.