Villanova finished the first half on a 16-4 run and carried that momentum into the second half as they cruised to a 86-56 win over No. 15 seed UNC Asheville in the South Region on Friday in Brooklyn.
The No. 2 seed Wildcats took a 40-26 lead into the break on senior Ryan Arcidiacono’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer and looked good on both ends of the floor thanks in-part to the improved health of center Daniel Ochefu.
An experienced senior, Ochefu was battling a sprained ankle a week ago but he looked far more mobile and active in Friday’s win over UNC Asheville and his presence gives Villanova the post scorer they desperately need. Ochefu finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks and the Wildcats need him to play like that to make a deep run in March.
The Wildcats had 14 points from Arcidiacono, 12 points each from Kris Jenkins and Miles Bridges and freshman Jalen Brunson had a bit of a bounce-back game with 10 points after not getting a lot of minutes in the Big East title game. Josh Hart also contributed nine points for a balanced Villanova offense.
Villanova (30-5) now has to get over the hump of making the Sweet 16, as they move on to face the winner of No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Temple. The Wildcats already defeated the Owls on the road with an 83-67 win on Feb. 17. Villanova has gone five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances without making the Sweet 16 and they’ll hope to break that streak on Sunday.
The stigma with Villanova is that they make early NCAA tournament exits and they have to win on Sunday to make people believe in them as a top-tier program. This first game was a good sign, though, as the Wildcats bounced back nicely after the loss to Seton Hall for the Big East conference tournament.
UNC Asheville (22-12) finishes a solid season in which they won the Big South conference tournament over a good Winthrop team. The Bulldogs were led by Dylan Smith (14 points), Dwayne Sutton (12 points) and Sam Hughes (10 points).