The Cardinals, though, cleared that hazard with a 76-60 win over Rutgers in front of 19.775 fans - including Louisville legend Muhammad Ali and the 1975 UofL Final Four team - at Freedom Hall.
"This was our trap game," Pitino said. "There's always a (trap) game mentally and we talked about it all week. The coaches said we had some wars that have taken a lot out of us and this was our game that was very similar to what can happen in the Big East. You have to come through that trap and play good enough defense to get a W and get out."
Jerry Smith scored 16 points, one short of his season-high, to lead Louisville (15-8, 6-4) to its third win in its last four games. The 6-foot-1 senior guard was 5 of 9 from the field, as the Cards shot a collective 54 percent, while also grabbing seven rebounds and recording a team-high three steals.
"It was just one of those games you had to grind it out," Smith said.
The Wauwatosa, Wisc. native led UofL's long-range attack by hitting 4 of 7 from behind the three-point line.
"When Jerry's out there knocking down shots and Reggie (Delk) is knocking down shots it's going to be hard for teams to concentrate on Samardo (Samuels)," said senior guard Edgar Sosa, who added 13 points and dished out a game-high eight assists.
Samuels scored 14 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, while sophomore forward Jared Swopshire produced one of his best all-around games of the season with 13 points, eight rebounds (as UofL won the backboard battled 36-27) and five assists.
"We did a good job tonight of rebounding and Swop gave us a big lift," said Pitino, whose bench outscored their Scarlet Knight counterparts 25-3. "Swop is getting better and better and is the guy who has improved the most. Samardo is improving and Swop is improving. Those guys are really getting better."
Sophomore Terrence Jennings, who recently replaced Swopshire in the starting lineup, scored back-to-back baskets to start the game as UofL surged out to an 11-3 lead early.
After replacing Jennings in the Louisville lineup Swopshire scored five quick points during a 9-2 run as the Cards' lead grew to 15 (24-9). It was as high as 17 (34-17) before Rutgers (11-12, 2-9) rallied late in the first half.
The Scarlet Knights, who were picked to finish 15th in the Big East preseason poll, pulled to within 43-32 at intermission thanks in large part to 12 points from high-flying freshman forward Dane Miller. Miller equaled his season total with four first-half dunks for Rutgers, which despite those high-percentage shots made only 36.4 percent (12 of 33) of its attempts in the first 20 minutes.
"I think it really came down to we didn't shoot the ball particularly well and they did," said Rutgers coach Fred Hill, whose team shot 38.3 percent (23 of 60) for the game.
However after Jennings scored the second half's first basket the Scarlet Knights ran off eight straight points. Back-to-back threes from forward Jonathan Mitchell cut the Cards' lead to 45-40. A three from sophomore Mike Rosario, who was coming off a 33-point performance against St. John's, moments later made it a four-point game (47-43).
But Smith and Swopshire answered with back-to-back threes and Samuels hit a free throw in a 7-0 UofL run.
Rutgers got as close as seven - on a jumper by Mitchell with 7:15 to play - but Smith responded with his final three of the game. Louisville led by double digits the rest of the game.
Louisville next plays at St. John's at 7 p.m. Thursday before a showdown next Sunday at third-ranked Syracuse as the Cards continue their push to make the NCAA Tournament.
"It's a big stretch," Pitino said. "We said (we had to win) six out of (our last) nine. Now it's five of eight, which becomes a little more realistic. Three weeks ago it was a little unrealistic and now it is more realistic."