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No doubt about 'Nova in opener

Wildcats shoot 63 percent in rout of Lafayette

Villanova head coach Jay Wright raises his fingers against Lafayette
during the first half. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Villanova head coach Jay Wright raises his fingers against Lafayette during the first half. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

PITTSBURGH - Villanova has had its moments as a high seed in opening NCAA Tournament games.

In 2006, as coach Jay Wright is fond of bringing up, when Monmouth made a run to get back in it against the top-seeded Wildcats, the crowd - as is often the case in those situations - started rooting for the team wearing the dark-colored jerseys. Even though it was being played in the Wells Fargo Center. But the Wildcats would make it to the Final Eight.

In 2009, again in South Philly, the third-seeded Wildcats were losing to American by 14 early in the second half. They ended up winning by double digits, and eventually got to the national semifinals.

The following March, as a No. 2 seed, they needed some calls at the end and then overtime to get past Robert Morris before getting eliminated in the next round by St. Mary's.

Last night at the Consol Energy Center they began another trip to the Madness as the top seed in the East Region against Patriot League champion Lafayette, coached by former Villanova standout Fran O'Hanlon, who was making his first four-letter appearance in 15 years.

This time, well, let's just say that a 16 still has never taken out a 1. Instead, it quickly turned into what you suspected it might, given the talent levels. The Wildcats, who just won their first Big East Tournament in 2 decades, are a program-best 33-2 for a reason. Actually, a bunch of them.

And there wasn't much the Leopards (20-13) could do to mess with the reality.

The final was 93-52, Villanova's 27th double-digit win. The Wildcats have now won a program-best 16 in a row. Still, the only thing that matters anymore is that they will be playing tomorrow, against North Carolina State (21-13).

They haven't made it to the second week since 2009. Last year they lost their second game as a 2 to eventual champ Connecticut, the fifth time they've lost to the overall winner since 2005.

The Wildcats always talk about the next game. But obviously, the expections go well beyond that.

One down. We'll find out how many there are to go. It's hard to win a Sweet 16 game until you get there.

"It was easy to get the players ready for this," Wright said. "We played them last season [in the opener]. And were losing in the second half on our court. Now we're on a neutral court. So we weren't playing someone we'd never seen. I didn't have to bring up any other examples [of what could happen]. They were very determined coming off that.

"I really was [concerned]. It would either work to our advantage or their advantage. I don't think it was another 1-16 situation. It wasn't the same."

The only hard part is he was playing against a friend.

"When it got a little out of hand, you feel bad," Wright acknowledged. "To do it against a Villanova great isn't enjoyable. That's tough. What I worried about was either losing or that kind of game. But I would have felt bad if they were beating us."

And those relationships obviously work both ways.

"The plan didn't work," O'Hanlon said. "In the scouting report, usually we circle the really good shooters. Usually it's two or three. We circled the two that don't shoot threes, of their eight.

"I think they're very scary on film. They're certainly scary up close. They're used to the bright lights. They were ready to go. The funnest part of this is when the game ended. Now I can go back to being a Villanova fan.

"This is not the way I wanted this to end. But we're still champions of the Patriot League. I think we're better than we showed. That doesn't mean we were going to beat them."

It was 49-26 at the break. Villanova already had 80 midway through the second half. Six players scored in double figures, led by Dylan Ennis' 16. Two others had nine and seven. The Wildcats shot 63 percent, 50 from the arc.

The one chance Lafayette had was to make a lot of threes, which it can do. But Villanova wasn't allowing that. The Leopards went 4-for-18 from deep. Germantown Academy's Nick Lindner, their best perimeter threat, was limited to four shots in 34 minutes. And had six turnovers.

It was the Wildcats' second-biggest win in the tourney, behind the 90-47 game against Penn in the East Regional final in 1971, the season after O'Hanlon graduated.

A one-point win tomorrow would suffice.

"We all know you get judged on getting to that second week," said Wright, who has been there four times. "Coaches have to answer to that, and deal with it, more so than the players. They're fired up because it's an NCAA game. Not that they're the 1 seed or anything. There's definitely a difference. If you get there, everyone's pleased with you. If you don't, they're going to question you. It's not as big a deal to the players. To them, it's what's next."

Last March, none of these players had even won an NCAA game before. Now, going home early doesn't seem to be an option.

"We knew what kind of team they were," said senior Darrun Hilliard, who had 12 points on eight shots, to go with three assists and three steals. "They came into our house and gave us a great battle. We knew we had to play the way we're supposed to, or it could be a close game. It was nice to jump on them from the start.

"Coach emphasized that if they got hot, they could make a great run. We had to take them off the three-point line. That kind of worked to our advantage."

Seven Wildcats had an assist. Ryan Arcidiacono, who scored 13 and went 3-for-4 from three, had six. And zero turnovers, which means he has had two in the last 178 minutes he's played. Think about that.

"That's just how we play," said junior center Daniel Ochefu, who went 5-for-5 and had nine rebounds and three blocks. "We share the ball. We work on that every day."

It's working.

"We are playing as well offensively as we have all season," Wright said. "It's a good time to do it. We're in a good rhythm right now. I think they're all making the right play. They're not out to get theirs. That's what I like about this group."

Not sure how much they know about the next obstacle. Or whether it will matter.