Williams scores 22 as Louisville shuts down Iona
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Rick Pitino presented former assistant coach Kevin Willard with a Rolex before Louisville faced Willard and Iona on Saturday.
Willard, in his first year with the Gaels after spending the last six years as an assistant under Pitino, shook his mentor’s hand and waved his appreciation to the Freedom Hall crowd.
Pitino’s hospitality, however, ended there.
Playing with the kind of precision it has lacked for much of the season, Louisville (9-3) shut down the Gaels 67-36 for its fourth straight win. Iona’s 36 points were the fewest allowed by the Cardinals during the Pitino-era, and the fewest scored against Louisville since Cincinnati managed just 31 against the Cardinals in 1981.
“I’m going to schedule this game next year and hopefully get a car,” Willard said. “I could use a Mercedes.”
Against the Cardinals, Willard would have settled for a couple of jumpers.
Iona (5-8) entered the game shooting nearly 49 percent from the field but went through several long scoreless droughts as shots clanged off the rim or were blocked.
“It was really a matter of two teams running the same offense, knowing virtually everything,” Pitino said. “We did a great job of playing defense tonight. For the first time we followed a scouting report.”
Terrence Williams scored a season-high 22 points for the Cardinals and Derrick Caracter had 13 points and 11 rebounds in perhaps his best all-around performance of the season.
“When we play defense like that, I don’t think anybody in the country can beat us,” Caracter said. “As long as we play hard on defense, the offense will come. We were talking a lot and communicating.”
The Cardinals had been worried about how it would combat playing against Willard, who recruited most of the team’s current roster and has installed much of Pitino’s system with the Gaels.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Williams made 9-of-17 shots and seemed at ease on the floor for the first time all year. Pitino has chastised Williams for his shot selection and urged Williams to be more authoritative with the ball. He seemed in control against the Gaels, hitting open shots and not forcing things when put in a tough spot.
“I’m just playing within the offense, I complement my teammates, they’re just giving me the ball,” Williams said. “It’s fun. Everybody is having fun right now. … I got encouraged. They kept backing up and I kept shooting.”
Louisville received even more good news after the game. Center David Padgett, who fractured his kneecap on Nov. 18, could return on Tuesday when Louisville opens Big East play against Cincinnati. Padgett suited up for the first time since the injury against the Gaels, but spent the game on the sideline shouting encouragement to his teammates.
Pitino said there’s a “50-50” chance Padgett could play against the Bearcats, meaning the Cardinals could be at full strength for the first time all year.
“It’s all about David, it’s not the coaches, it’s not the doctor,” Pitino said. “We’re going to get him in great shape. We don’t want him to injure something else.”
The way the Cardinals played against the Gaels, Padgett might not have to rush.
Iona came into the game shooting nearly 49 percent from the field on the season, but went through two long scoreless stretches in the first half. The Cardinals held the Gaels without a field goal for more than eight minutes in the first half as Louisville built a 28-16 lead.
“(Kevin) joked at halftime and said thanks for teaching me such good offense,” Pitino said.
The Cardinals mixed it upon defense, switching frequently from zone to man-to-man while pressing occasionally.
Gary Springer led Iona with nine points, but the Gaels simply couldn’t get anything going offensively. Though they managed to get open looks when Louisville went to zone, the shots didn’t fall.
Iona had won five of its last six after a slow start, and Willard entered the game undefeated at Freedom Hall as a head coach. He subbed for Pitino for one game during the 2003-04 season after Pitino excused himself because of an unspecified health scare.
Pitino is now 2-0 against former assistants this season. Louisville beat New Mexico State and coach Marvin Menzies last week. Pitino will take on another former assistant on Tuesday when the Cardinals play the Bearcats, coached by former Louisville assistant Mick Cronin.