After Villanova saved one of its best performances of the 2014-15 regular season for last, St. John's coach Steve Lavin tried to explain what he had witnessed from an opponent that he said "has a No. 1 [NCAA tournament] seed all but locked up."
"They're playing at a high level, playing the best basketball of any team in the country. We played the best team in the country on their floor," said Lavin, who later mentioned Kentucky as "a top program" along with Villanova.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats certainly looked the part Saturday before 19,161 at the Wells Fargo Center with the help of a 43-10 second-half run that resulted in a 105-68 blowout of the Red Storm, giving the Cats a program-record 29th regular-season win.
Scoring 100 points in a Big East game for the first time since a 102-84 win over Marquette on Feb. 10, 2009, the Wildcats (29-2, 16-2) posted a school-record 12th straight conference win. They also matched their Big East record of last season and completed their home schedule at 17-0.
Villanova will begin Big East tournament play Thursday against the winner of Wednesday night's opening-round game between Seton Hall, which upset the Cats in the tournament last season, and Marquette. A three-game sweep in the tournament will secure a No. 1 seed.
For coach Jay Wright, however, it's first things first, even if he did admit, "I think we're playing as well as anybody in the country," in response to Lavin's praise of his team.
"I think we can beat anybody in the country," he said, "and I think we can get beat by a lot of teams in the country. We just almost got beat by Creighton. I just think we have a really good team but not so good that if we don't play our best, we can get beat."
The fascinating aspect of Saturday's game was that the Red Storm (21-10, 10-8), playing without starting center Chris Obekpa and guard Jamal Branch because of injuries, stayed close at 62-58 following a three-point basket by former Vaux High star Rysheed Jordan with 13 minutes, 37 seconds to play.
That proved to be the visitors' last highlight. The Wildcats began their devastating closing run with a 23-4 explosion over a five-minute stretch following Jordan's field goal as 6-foot-11 center Daniel Ochefu dominated inside for four consecutive baskets.
St. John's scored just one field goal in the final 8:33.
"When it was four, I said, 'OK, we've got to keep battling,' " Wright said. "I kept saying that to our guys. All of a sudden it was just, boom, it just exploded."
The Wildcats actually trailed, 35-25, with 7:29 left in the first half after an eye-popping dunk by Jordan, who finished with 21 points. That means they scored 80 points in the last 27:29 - without a single turnover.
They ended up with three turnovers and five men in double figures, headed by Ochefu's 21, tying a career high. JayVaughn Pinkston, who didn't take a shot in the first 16 minutes, had 18 points, and Dylan Ennis added 17.
"I think we were smart about going inside and driving the ball," Wright said. "When I say we, it wasn't me. We have an offense where our guys make the decisions. I'm not calling it. Our guys make great decisions driving the ball."
On to the postseason.
How is the race shaping up for the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament? Here is a look at the top contenders.
Team Record Saturday
Kentucky 31-0 W, Florida, 67-50
Virginia 28-2 L, at Louisville, 59-57
Duke 28-3 W, at North Carolina, 84-77
Villanova 29-2 W, St. John's, 105-68
Arizona 28-3 W, Arizona, 91-69
Wisconsin 27-3 idle (vs. Ohio St. Sunday)
Gonzaga 30-2 W, San Francisco, 81-72