LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Spend more than three decades around college basketball, and you're bound to see just about everything.
So Louisville coach Rick Pitino isn't exactly reveling in his team's remarkable comeback against Marquette on Saturday.
The Cardinals trailed by 18 with 5:44 remaining before closing the game with a 24-5 flurry. Forward Kyle Kuric's lay-up with 4 seconds remaining lifted Louisville to an improbable 71-70 victory and provided the program's new downtown arena with its first signature moment.
While allowing the rally was a "once in a 10-15 year" event, Pitino told his players to relish the moment but don't dwell on it. He's been on both sides of them, including leading Kentucky back from a 31-point deficit against LSU 17 years ago, the greatest comeback in college basketball history.
As thrilling as the stunning turnaround against the Golden Eagles was, it still only counts for one win. All that momentum will evaporate quickly if No. 19 Louisville (14-3, 3-1 Big East) doesn't build on it Wednesday against St. John's (11-5, 4-2).
"We had to have that game, we have to have this game," Pitino said. "You don't know where the wins are going to come from in this conference. You have no idea."
Maybe, but it certainly looked like the Cardinals knew where a loss was going to come from after Marquette bullied its way to a 65-47 lead in the game's first 34 minutes.
It's those 34 minutes, not the six that followed, that Pitino remembers most. Louisville struggled in its halfcourt offense, couldn't stay out of foul trouble and looked overmatched at times.
If it happens again on Wednesday, Pitino knows the outcome will likely be very different against the improved Red Storm, who routed No. 16 Notre Dame on Sunday.
"If you're foolish enough to think (an 18-point comeback) is going to come against St. John's, you're going to come away with a loss," he said.
The Cardinals, to their credit, haven't even sat down and watched videotape of the Marquette game. Pitino caught a glimpse after hopping on a plane to make a recruiting trip Saturday night, but spent more time looking at the defensive lapses in the first half than the frantic final moments of the second.
"We know who we are," Pitino said. "We were down 18 points at home. There's a reason for that, you weren't playing too well."
Particularly sophomore point guard Peyton Siva, who watched from the sidelines as freshman Elisha Justice filled in during the late stages.
Justice did little more than get the ball into the hands of senior guard Preston Knowles — who knocked down four 3-pointers during the comeback — but he also didn't turn the ball over, something Siva has done with alarming regularity recently. Siva gave it away four times against the Golden Eagles and missed all five of his field goals.
Pitino isn't concerned about the benching shaking Siva's confidence, noting Siva led the cheers as Louisville roared back. The coach, however, also won't hesitate to go to Justice again if the talented but sometimes erratic Siva hits another rough patch.
Justice's steady if hardly spectacular play was one of several revelations against Marquette. Enigmatic junior center Terrence Jennings, who lost his starting spot to freshman Gorgui Dieng last month, played his best game of the season. He grabbed eight rebounds, converted four critical free throws in the last 50 seconds and blocked a lay-up attempt by Marquette's Dwight Buycks to set up the game-winning basket.
It's the kind of play Pitino would love to see out of Jennings more often. Yet after seeing such flashes from Jennings over the last 2½ years, he's hardly ready to say he expects to see it against the Red Storm.
"I coached eight years in the NBA and I saw it every single night with the people I was coaching against as well as the people I was coaching for," Pitino said. "You think they can do it each night and that separates the great ones from the ones with potential."
Pitino sees plenty of potential in both Jennings and the Red Storm. He raised eyebrows in the preseason when he picked St. John's to win the Big East behind first-year coach Steve Lavin. Pitino pointed to St. John's experience, depth and determination as proof Lavin could turn the program around quickly.
The Red Storm have done their best to prove Pitino right but he likes his team's pluck. He never stopped believing the Cardinals would rally against Marquette, a belief borne of three decades watching the unlikely happen.
"When you always concentrate on the name on the front you have big nights," he said. "You don't get too down when you're not playing well, you don't get too up when great things happen. We've stayed grounded."