NEW YORK –
Last March, Villanova came to the Big East Tournament as the No. 3 team in the country, having put together the best regular season (28-3) in program history.
The Wildcats then lost in the quarterfinals on a buzzer-beating jumper by eighth-seeded Seton Hall, a team they'd beaten by 14 and 17 during the season.
This time, the Wildcats returned to Madison Square Garden ranked fourth, again as the top seed after setting another program record for regular-season wins.
This time, their first opponent was ninth seed Marquette (13-19), which had beaten Seton Hall on Wednesday night by 22. The same Marquette that had lost to the Wildcats by 18 at the Pavilion in early February and by 11 in Milwaukee 17 days later.
But history wouldn't repeat itself in Thursday yesterday afternoon's quarters. Not remotely close.
"For sure, everyone was wondering if it would happen again," senior guard Darrun Hilliard said after an 84-49 win, Villanova's largest victory margin in this tourney. "We didn't worry about it. We can't control the past.
"But to just kind of get over that is relieving. We had a lot of momentum coming in."
In winning their 13th straight, the Wildcats — who beat St. John's by 37 in the regular-season finale — improved to 30-2, which ties the program record for wins set by the 2009 team that made it to the national semifinals. This group could still have some games left.
"We ran into a great team," said first-year Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski, the onetime Duke guard. "I don't know if they could play much better. Certainly, I don't think they could shoot much better than they did."
The Wildcats went 17-for-29 from the arc (and 13-for-28 from two), which tied a program record for makes set in 2005-06, and also equaled the Big East tourney high.
Sophomore Josh Hart, the conference's Sixth Man of the Year, finished with 20 points, one off his career best, on 7-for-10 shooting. Seven shots were from deep; he made five. His first five. There was no need for him to score in the closing 7:51.
"I just felt confidence," said Hart, who scored 11 straight to give Villanova a 13-point lead midway through the first half. "Darrun was finding me when I was open. Ryan [Arcidiacono] found me. Kris [Jenkins] found me. When you're wide open, after, like, the first couple, you just get in a rhythm.
"I really wasn't thinking. I was just shooting."
"We tried not to talk about [last year]," said Jay Wright, the Coach of the Year for the second straight season. "We really need to focus on just 'be here now.' But there's no doubt, it's in the back of your mind.
"I just think the experience of that is part of these guys now. So I think they came really ... ready for anything."
Speaking of what's next, tonight they'll get defending champion Providence (22-10), which beat St. John's (21-11) in the 4-5 matchup, 74-57. 'Nova beat the Friars by six in New England on Feb. 11 and by 28 on the Main Line 2 weeks later.
The Wildcats have been in the semifinals once since 2009. They haven't been to the title game since 1997. They haven't won more than once in this tourney since 2004.
"When you're the favored team, each round you advance lessens the pressure," Wright said. "Because you're where you're supposed to be."
They rolled in this one even though Arcidiacono, the co-Player of the Year, took only four shots and had only five points. Hilliard, a fellow first-team all-conference, scored 13, but added a career-best eight assists. That's kind of how they've been doing it all season.
"We just got hot," Arcidiacono said. "We know we can all make shots. If we're open, we'll make the extra pass to get even more wide-open. It says a lot about our team. On any given night, anyone can do anything. We don't have to give it to one person to make a play. We all make plays for each other ...
"We have bigger goals."
Marquette's top scorer, senior Matt Carlino, scored 26 against Seton Hall, mostly by making eight treys. This time he had five points on 2-for-11 shooting, eight shots from deep. He was forced to leave the first Villanova game with a concussion and missed the second because he was still suffering from the symptoms.
"He's got the quickest release of anybody we've played against," Wright said. "You can't let him catch it, because they get it off before you can get to them. I just thought we rushed him and kept enough people on him and switched out on him."
The Wildcats also forced 22 turnovers. Which was also as many assists as they had, on 30 field goals. When you combine it with that kind of shooting, well, there's a reason they're where they are.
"When you have nights like that, you're going to win most games," Wright said. " ... It makes a big difference."
Maybe so does having a year to think about it.