By Ed Benkin


BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CBS) – The Villanova Wildcats made it clear from the start there would be no early exit this time.

After dealing with questions all season about their past two failures in the NCAA Tournament, Jay Wright’s squad was determined to get past their second game. They did so with an exclamation point.

The knockout punch came early in the Wildcats’ 87-68 win over Iowa. Villanova blasted out to a 54-29 halftime lead. The Wildcats shot a sizzling 63% over the first 20 minutes and set a school record for most points in the half of an NCAA game. If this were a fight, they would have stopped it, but no one from Iowa could throw in the towel until time expired in the second half. The Hawkeyes were the mosquito caught in the path of the rampaging elephant as Villanova was determined to blow away their recent NCAA past. Senior Guard Ryan Arcidiacono is happy to finally move forward.

“It’s definitely a sigh of relief,” said Arcidiacono. “I just think the biggest thing is, I’m honestly just done answering the questions about getting past the second weekend. I know it was always in the back of our seniors’ minds and our team.”

READ: Students React To Villanova’s Big Win Over Iowa

When Villanova was knocked out the past two years, they made mistakes and missed shots they hadn’t missed all season. This game was Villanova Basketball at its surgical best. The unselfish Cats did all of the things which brought them to the top of the rankings earlier this season. It started in the first half, and Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery could only watch helplessly as the game slipped away early. Even Villanova Coach Jay Wright was in awe of his team’s performance over the first 20 minutes.

“We’re thrilled that we came out and played a first half like that,” Wright said. “When I shook hands with Fran, I just said, hey, I’m sorry. We haven’t played a first half like that in a long time.”

Wright and his players handled all of the questions leading up to this game as well as they could throughout the season. Even as the Cats were rolling towards another regular season Big East crown, they were asked continuously about their past NCAA outcomes. Those questions intensified as round two drew closer. The players insisted they weren’t focused on game two until after game one. Wright is glad it is an issue that has been put to rest once and for all.

“You know you’ve got to answer the question,” said Wright. “I’m just relieved we don’t have to answer the question, honestly. It wasn’t that big of a deal to us. Like I explained earlier, we don’t evaluate our program that way.”

McCaffery had little trouble evaluating Villanova’s performance, and believes the Wildcats could be poised for a long run in the tournament.

“I really think they can go a long way,” McCaffery said. “They’re a really difficult team to guard. A lot of times, really talented offensive teams plays defense in spurts, and they don’t. They play defense equally as well as they play offense, and I think you heard it pretty clearly from our guys that they’ve been impressed watching film and then playing against Villanova, how they share the basketball. You’ve got a lot of really talented guys.”

The Wildcats will now move on to Louisville for the Sweet 16. With the ghosts of second rounds past behind them, the path is now open for Villanova’s first trip to the Final Four since 2009. The path is blocked with difficult challenges, starting with a talented Miami squad on Thursday. The Wildcats will turn their attention to the Hurricanes on Monday.

But on this day, it was all about cleaning the skeletons out of the closet.

“You just know how hard it is,” said Wright. “You look at Michigan State. That team is a great team. It only takes one game. If you really follow the tournament, you see it happens a lot, so we were not concerned at all with it.”