NEW YORK - If Villanova designed a blueprint for what it had to accomplish to win its first Big East tournament championship since 1995, the Wildcats couldn't have done it any better than they did Thursday against Marquette.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats controlled their Big East quarterfinal game relatively early with amazing efficiency from three-point range and strong defense that kept the Golden Eagles off the scoreboard for nearly seven minutes, rolling to their 13th straight win, 84-49, at Madison Square Garden.
The Wildcats (30-2) tied a program record for wins in a season and stayed in the forefront for a No. 1 seed to the NCAA tournament. They advanced to the semifinals, where they will play Providence at 7 p.m. Friday. The fourth-seeded Friars moved on with a 74-57 victory over St. John's.
In posting its largest victory margin ever in a Big East tournament game, Villanova tied school and event records for most three-pointers in a game with 17. Sophomore Josh Hart, winner of the conference's sixth-man award, knocked down five treys and led all scorers with 20 points.
The Wildcats, who shot nearly 59 percent for the game from the arc, swished 10 first-half threes, starting fast against the ninth-seeded Golden Eagles (13-19), whose first-round win Wednesday night over Seton Hall ended around 15 hours before tipoff.
"Us coming out and hitting those threes early, getting some stops early, and kind of jumping on them, you get fatigued, you've got to chase," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "It starts to wear on you."
It wasn't just the Wildcats' offense that carried the team. Villanova limited Marquette's Matt Carlino, who scored 26 points and tied a tournament record with eight three-point baskets Wednesday, to one three-ball in eight attempts. He finished with five points.
"He's got the quickest release of anybody we've played against," Wright said. "You can't let him catch it because, if he catches it, he gets it off before you can get to him. . . . I just thought we rushed him and kept enough people on him and we switched out on him. It was really good execution by our guys."
Yet again, Villanova showed the balance that contributes to its success. Darrun Hilliard, its leading scorer, contributed 13 points but dished a career-high eight assists. Ryan Arcidiacono, the Big East co-player of the year, scored five points with four assists and two steals but teamed with Dylan Ennis in shutting down Carlino.
"I know they were going to be focusing on me whenever I get the ball," Hilliard said. "So I just wanted to get my guys open, give them open shots. I just tried to use that to my advantage, and Josh knocked down some shots, Arch . . . I just made the pass, credit to them."
The Golden Eagles trailed by 18-16 midway through the first half when Hart and Villanova exploded. The 6-foot-5 swingman hit three threes and a layup in a span of 2:24 to fuel a 17-0 run that ended with a pair of treys from Ennis, making it 35-16. Marquette did not get closer than 14 the rest of the way.
So the Wildcats are one-third of the way to their first Big East tournament title since 1995 and a certain No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Wright let it be known his preference.
"Winning the Big East tournament . . . to me, would be far more rewarding than getting a 1 seed," he said. "I just think there's a lot more to that than getting a 1 seed.
A No. 1 seed, he added, "does not affect our thinking at all. But winning the Big East tournament affects our thinking a lot."