Within two minutes of Villanova's men's basketball victory over Kansas on Saturday night, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue received 280 text messages from alumni and other excited fans, looking forward to the Final Four.

"Houston, here we come."

"God bless you and the entire Nova community."

"How can I get tickets?"

The Villanova University president couldn't answer right away. He was busy hugging team cocaptain Ryan Arcidiacono, a moment captured on national television.

For Donohue, in his 10th year as president, it was another capstone moment in an exhilarating year for the Catholic school on the Main Line.

The 10,000-student university experienced its third straight year of record-breaking applications, including double-digit percentage increases in interest from students from the Midwest, South, and West.

Gifts and pledges reached $100 million per year for the last three years. With two years left in its capital campaign, Villanova already has collected $515 million of its $600 million goal.

The university, one of the nation's top producers of Fulbright scholars, last month was reclassified as a doctoral institution, which further raises its profile, said provost Patrick Maggitti.

"It's been one thing after another," he said. "It's been a ride."

The trajectory only promises to improve if the effects of the basketball team's success in previous years is any indication.

In 2009, the last time the team advanced to the Final Four, the university received what it estimated to be at least $6 million worth of free media coverage, said Ann Diebold, vice president of university communications.

"It's PR you can't purchase," Maggitti said.

This year, Villanova was ranked the most talked-about team in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, according to a report in Ad Week. Star player Kris Jenkins was trending on Twitter after a great game Thursday. Among those tweeting was Jill Biden, wife of the vice president and holder of a master's degree from Villanova, who offered this: "Let's Go @VillanovaU Wildcats."

In 1985, when the Wildcats won the national championship, the number of freshmen the following fall jumped by 119, to 1,670, said Michael Gaynor, director of university admission.

"It can certainly swing a pendulum in a favorable way," he said.

Just as telling is what happened in 2009, when many schools were having trouble attracting a class as the economy soured.

"I think the Final Four run helped us to get our class," he said.

The university has offered admission to 42 percent of its 17,266 applicants this year. Typically, about 20 percent of those offered admission enroll.

Could a national win be a tipping point for a student selecting a college?

"I think it helps, but academics is still the major" factor, said Matthew Ritter, 17, of Chicago, one of 1,200 prospective students and family members touring the 260-acre campus Tuesday.

His mother pointed out that a national win could make it harder to get in.

"That's the only bad thing, people," said Patricia Ritter. "Don't think I'm not looking at that and going, 'Shoot, can you win it next year after we're in the building? Please.' "

From public safety officers to academics passing in the hall, Final Four excitement is palpable on campus this week.

"V's up," said one officer, who greeted a colleague with a V sign.

"It's so exciting," said Michelle Wiese, 21, a senior from Syracuse, N.Y., as she looked over Final Four garb at the bookstore.

She is going to Houston for Saturday's game with Oklahoma, one of 700 students who got tickets through the university. (The university got a total of 3,000 tickets, and they are gone.)

"I was one of the lucky ones," she said.

The experience is especially sweet for her because Syracuse also is in the Final Four. Her father, a Syracuse fan, is going to Houston, too, where his team will take on North Carolina.

Carole D'Annunzio, mother of two Villanova graduates, came in from Malvern to get Final Four shirts for the family.

"Proud to be Wildcats," she said. "We all are."

Since the team moved on to the tournament's round of 16, bookstore sales are up $50,000, the store's manager, Ryan Snyder, said.

"T-shirts, hats, dog collars, hoodies, kids' clothes - if it has a V on it, they want it," he said.

Excitement also is building regionally, nationally, even in the far corners of the world.

Several Philadelphia landmarks will be lighted in blue and white Saturday night, including the Ben Franklin Bridge, One and Two Liberty Place, the Wells Fargo Center, and the PECO Building. The Cira Centre will feature a blue V, the university said. Philadelphia International Airport will run good-luck ads on hundreds of LED screens in all seven terminals, and Comcast SportsNet will show support for the team on digital boards throughout the city with the live score of the game.

There have been 160 Villanova watch parties around the country since the tournament started, the university says.

They're even watching in the Federated States of Micronesia, northeast of New Guinea and Australia. A Villanova alum teaching there had his class listening to the game Saturday night.

It might be making a difference.

The university received three applications this year from Micronesia. That is a first.

215-854-4693@ssnyderinq