As Willard soon found out, it was the wrong time to face the Cardinals.
Delivering one of its best all-around performances of the season – especially on the defensive end – UofL lambasted Iona 67-36 in front of 19,118 fans at Freedom Hall.
The Cards held the Gaels to 19 percent shooting, forced them into 15 turnovers, blocked 13 of their shots – which tied a season-high – and recorded 47 deflections.
"We did a great job of playing defense tonight," Pitino said. "We wanted to make a statement heading into the Big East, and we did. We had to play an unbelievable effort on defense tonight and we did.
"For the first time all year we played the scouting report to perfection."
Iona (5-8) had made 51 percent of its shots in winning five of its previous six games before its hot shooting streak was derailed by UofL (9-3).
22 points vs. Iona.
"I don't think anyone can beat us if we play defense like we did today," sophomore center Derrick Caracter said.
Future opponents will also likely have trouble if Terrence Williams and Caracter play like they did Saturday. Williams, the 6-foot-6 junior forward, scored 22 points, on 9 of 17 shooting, and grabbed five rebounds. Meanwhile Caracter added 13 points – on 5 of 5 shooting – and led the team with 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.
"I probably busted Derrick's butt as much as anybody in the last year, but it's great to see him play well when they go up and down the floor," said Willard, who was a UofL assistant the last six seasons. "I think this team is just now starting to play the way they're going to play."
Unlike its previous three home games, UofL didn't wait until the second half to play well against Iona.
The Cards, who led 28-16 at halftime, held the Gaels to a season-low first-half point total. It was also the fewest for a UofL opponent this season.
Iona made just 5 of 26 shots (19.2 percent) from the field, including only one of its nine three-point tries (11.1 percent) in the first 20 minutes. The Cards also held Iona's top two scorers – Dexter Gray and Milan Prodanovic – to a combined three points. The duo entered averaging a combined 26.1 points per game – Gray 13.8 and Prodanovic 12.3 – and finished the game with three points apiece, respectively, on combined 2 of 17 shooting.
"Kevin, he joked at halftime and said, ‘Thanks for teaching me such great offense,'" Pitino said.
T-Will led Louisville with seven first-half points while Earl Clark added five points and seven rebounds and Caracter collected five points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.
"DC's blocking shots like Samaki Walker," Williams quipped afterwards.
The second half was T-Will time.
When he wasn't knocking down threes – he was 3 of 4 from long range in the second half - he was hitting mid-range jumpers, or dishing off to teammates.
"Everything is a credit to my teammates," Williams said. "It's really fun right now."
T-Will shared that sentiment about playing against one of his former coaches.
"It was fun going against coach Willard because he was yelling out stuff they weren't running just to try and trick us," Williams said. But despite the loss Willard said it was a treat to play the Cards.
"It was fun to see the kids I helped recruit, help teach, play the way they should be playing, (with) a lot of smiles, a lot of fun, a lot of energy," Willard said. "To be honest with you I was really proud of the way my kids played. It was a special day for me, I got to coach against my mentor. I heard him say he didn't teach me scheduling, I'm going to schedule this game next year, maybe I'll get a car."
The Cards will ring in the New Year, and open Big East Conference play, Tuesday when they host Cincinnati at 2:30 p.m. The game could also mark the return of 6-11 senior center David Padgett, who has been sidelined since suffering a broken right kneecap in UofL's second game of the season Nov. 18 against Jackson State.
"I would venture to say there is a possibility that we'll have David for Cincinnati," Pitino said. "It's 50-50, but it's up to him."