NEW YORK - Villanova roared out of the locker room and onto the court Sunday at the Barclays Center playing as if it didn't just want to snap its streak of second-round failures in the NCAA tournament, it wanted to smash it into little pieces.
Still, the second-seeded Wildcats insisted that despite all the questions over the last several months and the near-suffocating pressure to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, they didn't come out against Iowa any more fired up than at any other time during their season.
The Cats simply played their best half of basketball all year with precise shot making, effective three-point accuracy and terrific defense. The combination produced a 25-point lead, propelling them to an 87-68 victory over the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes and into the South Regional semifinals Thursday night in Louisville against Miami.
"We have a really mature group," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "The will of a really determined athlete is much greater than any of the pressure that media or coaches or anyone puts on them. They were so determined to win this game and give their best effort in this game that it just superseded everything."
The seniors of this group - Ryan Arcidiacono, who set a program record playing in his 140th game, and Daniel Ochefu - had been through their share of disappointment. The Wildcats (31-5) were eliminated in the second round in both 2014 (No. 2 seed) and 2015 (No. 1), adding to the knockout in round two in 2010 as a second seed.
But if there was any pressure on Villanova at tipoff Sunday, it certainly wasn't evident.
The Cats were crisp with their offense, shooting 60.6 percent in the first half. They knocked down seven three-point baskets. They scored 12 points off eight Iowa turnovers. Their defense held Iowa's top scorer, all-American Jarrod Uthoff, to just five points.
The half ended with Villanova scoring a season-high 54 points, most ever for the program in the NCAAs, for a 54-29 lead. The advantage grew to 34 less than four minutes into the second half and the Hawkeyes (22-11) were left with too large a hill to climb.
"Everything was exactly the same," Ochefu said of the pregame routine. "We got an early wake-up, we had a little walk-through. We watched our scouting film. We ate breakfast and then we went to the gym. Nothing was really different. It's what we've been doing all year."
"We try to keep every game as the same magnitude, and we just try to come out and play the basketball we know how to play," said Arcidiacono. "I think we try to hold each other accountable.
"In the first half, we knew how good Iowa was, so we knew how Uthoff and [Peter] Jok could go off at any time. So we tried to focus on them. We just got stops and made all the little plays."
Josh Hart shot 7 for 11 and led another balanced scoring attack with 19 points. Arcidiacono had 16 and Kris Jenkins 15 plus six assists. Ochefu led the defensive effort with 11 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.
Hart said the Wildcats took great pride in playing at a high level in such an important game.
"Everything that we're doing paid off out there, all the habits that we've been building since the summer came together in that half," he said. "That's kind of how you envision it . . . how it comes together in what possibly could be your last game. So just having those habits down pat, be able to execute as we did, it's just a great feeling."
So now that questions about second-round failures will cease, the Wildcats can turn their attention to Miami (27-7), the third seed, which defeated Buffalo, 79-72, and Wichita State, 65-57, in the first two rounds in Providence, R.I. But first, they can revel in getting over that second-round hump.