BUFFALO, N.Y. — Guard Darrun Hilliard scored 16 points, and No. 2-seeded Villanova overcame a first-half to rout No. 15 seed Milwaukee 73-53 in a second-round East Region NCAA tournament game Thursday night at First Niagara Center.
Forward JayVaughn Pinkston finished with 13 points for the Wildcats (29-4). Guard James Bell had 12, and guard Josh Hart and forward Kris Jenkins each added 11.
“That was not a 20-point game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Milwaukee is a really tough team. Their defense was outstanding. I thought our patience and our defense got us through the first half until we could get some shots in transition in the second half.”
Villanova will play No. 7-seeded Connecticut, its former Big East rival, on Saturday. The winner advances to the East Regional semifinals in New York.
“We’re pretty familiar with them,” Bell said of UConn. “It’s just another opportunity to play a great team.”
Forward Austin Arians led Milwaukee (21-14) with 17 points. He made four of 10 3-point attempts.
“You have to give Villanova a lot of credit,” Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said. “For being undersized, they do a great job of being aggressive. And eventually, they just wear you down. They kept us off balance all evening, and we weren’t able to establish clean post looks.”
Milwaukee built a five-point lead in the first half, but Villanova closed with a 9-0 run to take a 27-23 into halftime.
“That run changed the momentum of the game,” Jeter said.
The Wildcat’s run reached 14 points before Milwaukee forward Kyle Kelm scored in the second half.
The Panthers closed within four, but Jenkins scored on a layup and then hit a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats in command at 42-33 with 11:38 left.
The lead increased to 59-47 on a jumper from Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono with 5:33 remaining. A 3-pointer from Jenkins gave the Wildcats a 68-51 advantage with 3:04 left.
“It meant a lot to get this one,” Bell said. “And now we focus on UConn.”
Villanova finished a paltry 4-for-23 from 3-point range. Milwaukee shot 6-for-24 from beyond the arc.
NOTES: Villanova coach Jay Wright has reached four Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and one Final Four since taking over the Wildcats in 2001. His 2010 team barely escaped No. 15 Robert Morris by three points in overtime. His 2011 squad lost its first tournament game 61-57 to George Mason, and the 2013 Wildcats went down 78-71 to North Carolina. … The Wildcats entered the tournament attempting 44.6 percent of their shots from 3-point range. That was the most of any No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the tournament. … Milwaukee had to win four games in seven days to capture the Horizon League tournament and the automatic NCAA berth. The Panthers were picked last in the preseason coaches poll. … Villanova won its first Big East regular-season title since 1982 this season. Of course, the conference was restructured last summer.
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