After suffering three early season losses, Louisville has been on a serious hot-streak since falling to UNLV 56-55 Dec. 31 at Freedom Hall. The Cardinals have won seven straight games this month, including a 71-57 victory over USF on Jan. 7 in Tampa, Fla.
"This is a much improved basketball team," Pitino said. "I don't know if it was the early season losses but they don't look at anybody's name. They don't look at their rankings or records and they've been very, very good about paying attention because they realize what happened early in the year."
opposition during their current
seven-game winning streak.
Pitino said his rapidly improving Cardinals learned much from their three pre-conference setbacks.
"They learned not to start the game taking quick shots and make sure they work inside to out," Pitino said. "They learned the importance of the scouting report and how to pay attention to it. So they got a lot out of those losses."
Recently, the Cards have received a big boost off the bench from 6-foot-10 reserve freshman center Terrence Jennings. Jennings ranks second in Big East games with 2.7 blocks per game while playing just 15.5 minutes per game.
"TJ's problem early on was he couldn't learn any of the plays," Pitino said. "It had nothing to do with basketball IQ. He just had a difficult time picking up the different offensive and defensive sets. He's got very good hands and he's becoming a better player."
With Samardo Samuels in foul trouble Sunday against Syracuse, Jennings had his best game of the season, posting 9 points, 5 rebounds and two blocks.
"I've just been working hard in practice and putting extra time into my game trying to develop some offensive skills," Jennings said. "I bring a lot to the team rebounding and blocking shots and I just want to be more offensive-minded."
Jennings has made big strides in January and has played at least nine minutes in Louisville's past six games with reserve center George Goode sidelined with a stress fracture.
"He's an athlete – very similar to the way T-Will was when he came in," Pitino said. "He has good athleticism and he's waiting for his basketball skills to catch up.
"TJ is a very good rebounder," Pitino added. "He goes in there and blocks shots and rebounds and he's becoming a better offensive player, even his free throw shooting is getting better."
Jennings said he was slowed early in the season by a foot injury and now is trying to work hard to earn even more minutes as the season progresses.
"Coach P's starting to trust me more and I'm just trying to work hard every time on the floor," Jennings said. "I'm trying to stay active and be a presence inside blocking shots and rebounding."
Pitino said he wants to see more passion from the talented Jennings.
"That's going to be the next hurdle he'll have to overcome," Pitino said. "We've talked about his degree of passion for the game of basketball. If he creates passion for the game he'll become a good basketball player.
"I'm not sure he ever grew up in a basketball household where he was a basketball junkie. His dad is a wonderful guy but I don't think it's a basketball family. He's going to have to develop his love for the game of basketball here at Louisville. It's a very easy place to develop it because you've got a million sickos around you."
"If I don't bring him into the gym he's not in the gym. He's only in there when we practice."
Jennings said he's trying to apply more passion to his craft.
"I love the game of basketball," said Jennings. "I been putting in extra time and he's told me I need to put in a little more time and that's what I've been doing. I take heed to what he's been saying because he knows what he's talking about."
Jennings has blocked 17 shots in Louisville first six league games. Jennings had three blocks in UofL's first game against USF and figures to remain an important player in Pitino's front court rotation as the Cards move further along in conference play.
"If he had T-Will's passion for the game look out," Pitino said.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on WHAS-TV.
Weather Advisory According to the University of Louisville Sports Information Department, tonight's game will be played as scheduled despite winter weather conditions in the Louisville area.