PITTSBURGH (AP) — Thirty years after an improbable run to a stunning national championship, Villanova is going to try it this time around as a prohibitive favorite to reach the Final Four.
With a romp in the opening act, the Wildcats showed they’re up to the task of headlining on the way to Indianapolis.
Without a hint of doubt, the Wildcats flexed their top-seeded muscle and showed why President Barack Obama picked them to reach the NCAA Tournament title game, thumping Lafayette 93-52 on Thursday night.
Dylan Ennis scored 16 points and helped Villanova (33-2) win its 16th straight game. They’ll go for 17 straight when they play Saturday against No. 8 seed North Carolina State, which rallied from 16 down to stun LSU in the final seconds.
“I could tell our guys were fired up for this game because it was the NCAA Tournament,” coach Jay Wright said. “They weren’t thinking seed. They weren’t thinking we could be the first 1-16 to (lose). They don’t think about that stuff. Coaches do.”
He had no reason to worry in Pittsburgh.
The Wildcats shot close to 70 percent for most of the game and led by as many as 45 points. They made 11 of 22 from 3-point range and shot 63 percent overall from the floor.
Ennis opened the game with a 3 and the Wildcats simply rolled from there. Kris Jenkins hit consecutive 3s for a 14-point lead, part of a 6-of-12 effort from long range in the first half.
While the Wildcats drained ’em from long range, they shut down Lafayette’s potent 3-point game. The Leopards were second nationally in 3-point shooting (41 percent), and the thought was, if the Leopards got hot from 3, they could give the Wildcats a game.
Not a chance.
The Leopards missed six of their first seven 3s and were just 2 of 9 in the first half. Joey Ptasinski led the Leopards with 72 3-pointers at 46 percent shooting. He missed all three attempts.
“We wanted to take them off the 3-point line and make them put it on the floor and work to our advantage,” guard Darrun Hilliard said.
Dan Trist led the Patriot League champion Leopards (20-13) with 18 points. The Leopards missed 14 of 18 3s.
The Leopards seemingly would have had to make all their shots to keep pace with the Big East champion Wildcats.
“I think playing the No. 2 team in the nation, we were a little nervous,” forward Seth Hinrichs said.
The Leopards never had a chance to settle their nerves. Villanova used a 13-0 run to lead 34-13. When Big East co-player of the year Ryan Arcidiacono hit a 3 early in the second half for a 58-30 lead, Villanova was shooting 67 percent (24 of 34) and 54 percent on 3s (7 of 13).
Ennis may have led the Wildcats in scoring, but everyone assisted in stuffing the stat sheet. All five starters reached double digits, and Jenkins had 10 off the bench.
“That’s just how we play. We’re a good offensive team and we share the ball,” big man Daniel Ochefu said. “We worked on that all year in practice and it wasn’t any different this game.”
The Wildcats finished No. 2 in the AP Top 25 and were a trendy pick to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2009. They won the Big East regular-season and tournament titles in the same season for the first time in program history. They hold a No. 1 seed for the second time in history. And, they have gone two months without a loss, putting them in the mix with Kentucky and Arizona as the best of all the Wildcats.
Villanova won its first Big East Tournament championship in 20 years and would like to mark another milestone with a championship — 30 years since it upset Georgetown to win the 1985 national championship.
Obama picked the Wildcats to reach the national championship game and lose to Kentucky.
Lafayette: Coach Fran O’Hanlon was once one of Villanova’s biggest stars. He averaged 13.1 points and was co-captain of the 1969-70 team that won two NCAA Tournament games. O’Hanlon still holds the Villanova record for assists in a game, 16 vs. Toledo on Feb. 24, 1970. His Wildcats teams went 62-21 over his three seasons under coach Jack Kraft. O’Hanlon was inducted into the Villanova Hall of Fame in 1972.
Villanova: The Wildcats have not advanced past the first weekend since 2009. They have just two NCAA Tournament wins and missed the tourney once during that span. … The Wildcats committed only eight turnovers, just three in a dominant first half.
Because of what O’Hanlon means to the Villanova program, Wright had a tough time finding pure joy in victory. He switched to zone late in the game and emptied his bench so that 12 Wildcats played. “We tried to do what we could to be classy about it,” Wright said.
Lafayette: Season finished.
Villanova: Will play N.C. State on Saturday at the Consol Center.
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