NEW YORK - Jay Wright always liked talking about the only Villanova team to win a Big East tournament championship, knowing the 1994-95 group led by Kerry Kittles, Alvin Williams, and Jason Lawson held a special place in the annals of the Wildcats' basketball program.
Twenty years later, a second Villanova team has joined the '95 group in the same history-making moment.
The Wildcats jumped on Xavier right away, led by 16 points in the first half, and never allowed the Musketeers to mount a rally Saturday night. 'Nova assured itself of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a 69-52 victory in the Big East title game at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova, which last played in a Big East final in 1997, enters the NCAAs with 15 consecutive victories and a 32-2 record. Its postseason assignment will be announced Sunday.
The championship meant a lot to Wright, who recalled the 1994-95 team's being honored last Saturday at halftime of the win over St. John's and its members speaking to the current players in the locker room.
"They're a very revered group at Villanova, and we said that to our guys," Wright said. "They said, 'It would be great for you guys to come back as Big East tournament champions also.'
"I'm thrilled for these guys because these are really special players but also special Villanovans. These guys really take pride in being a part of the program, they take pride in playing for the players that came before them and know all the history. They know all these guys."
Dylan Ennis led Villanova with 16 points. Josh Hart, the team's high man in the first two games, added 15 and was named the tournament's most valuable player. Darrun Hilliard had 12 for a Wildcats team that shot 50 percent from the field and drained nine three-point baskets.
"As players, we're very excited about it," said Ennis, who joined Hart and Hilliard on the all-tournament team. "We've never been here, but I think every player would say they're really happy for Coach as well. Coach has been grinding for a long time, and for us to finally be able to give it to him, we're happy about that."
Ennis capped a 17-4 run with a pair of free throws that gave the Wildcats a 34-18 lead with 2 minutes, 1 second to play in the first half. It was 34-21 at the break, and Villanova opened the second half with an 8-0 run that made it a 21-point lead
Xavier (21-13), which expects to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, mounted a mild surge that got it to within 13, 54-41, with 10 minutes to play. But Ennis' three-ball sparked a 7-0 rally that was capped by Hart's follow-up basket, giving 'Nova a 20-point advantage, and that did it.
Hart, winner of the Big East sixth-man award, shot 21 of 29 (72.4 percent) from the field in three games, including 9 of 14 (64.3 percent) from three-point range. He was asked what it means to be on the same list as past Big East tournament MVPs Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin.
"It's an honor, it's definitely humbling to be on that list of guys," Hart said. "But like I said, I've got to thank my teammates for that. . . . When I have those guys' total confidence, I can just go out there, play, and have fun, and do whatever I can to help the team."
After compiling a school-record 32 wins and their first No. 1 seed since 2006, the Wildcats will see what's to come. Can they be Wright's best team ever?
"They've got a chance," he said. "We'll see how they do in this next tournament, but this does have a chance to be the best team I've ever had."