Villanova closed the first half on an explosive 41-16 run and ended six years of frustration and disappointment by returning to the Sweet 16 with an 87-68 win over Iowa Sunday in the NCAA South Regional second round at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
No. 2 seed Villanova led No. 7 seed Iowa by as many as 34 points four minutes into the second half. Iowa got as close as 16 in the final minutes.
Villanova was eliminated in 2010, 2014 and 2015 as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the second round against No. 7 or 8 seeds and faced constant questions about its ability to win in the NCAA Tournament against underdogs.
Going back to 2009, the Wildcats had lost six consecutive NCAA Tournament games against teams seeded higher than 15th.
But all that is history. Villanova played a near-perfect first half, shooting 61 percent from the field and 58 percent from three and limiting Iowa to 40 percent shooting on the way to a 54-29 halftime lead — the largest by any team in this year’s tournament.
The game was tied at 13 before Villanova outscored Iowa, 52-18, over the next 17½ minutes to go up 65-31 four minutes into the second half.
Josh Hart led Villanova with 19 points on 7 for 11 from the field. Ryan Arcidiacono (16), Kris Jenkins (15) and Jalen Brunson (12) also reached double digits. Phil Booth came off the bench to add eight points and three assists.
Even with a sluggish second half in which it was outscored 39-33, Villanova shot 59 percent from the field and 53 percent from beyond the arc.
Villanova is now off to the Sweet 16 in Louisville, where it will open play Thursday against Miami.
Brunson, Jenkins, Arcidiacono and Booth combined to shoot 9 for 15 from beyond the arc.
Villanova’s 54 points in the first half are its most ever in an NCAA Tournament game.
What it means
This is Villanova’s 17th trip to the Sweet 16 and fifth in the last 12 years, but it’s the Wildcats’ first trip since 2009, when they reached the Final 4.
Villanova avoided becoming the first team in NCAA Tournament history to lose as a top-two seed in the Round of 32 three years in a row.
Villanova improved to 31-5, and the 31 wins are second-most in school history, behind only last year’s 33.
Iowa, which eliminated Temple on Friday, finished the season 22-11 after a 16-3 start.
With the score tied at 13, Darryl Reynolds scored in the paint and added a foul shot and then Jenkins hit back-to-back jumpers, the second one from three, for an eight-point lead. The lead grew exponentially from there.
By the numbers
• Ochefu had 11 rebounds, four assists, six points and three blocks.
• Villanova has won 32 straight games going back to 2012 when it shoots 40 percent or better from three.
• The Wildcats made 40 percent of their threes in just five of their first 27 games but six of their last nine.
• Iowa made its first two threes, then made five of its last 22.
• Brunson, Jenkins, Arcidiacono and Ochefu all had four assists for ‘Nova.
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The Wildcats will face Miami on Thursday in the South Regional semifinals at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Game time has not yet been announced.
Miami beat Wichita State, 65-57, in Providence on Saturday in a South Region quarterfinal.
The Hurricanes are 27-7 and a Philly native, Ja’Quan Newton of Neumann-Goretti, is averaging 10.8 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Villanova and Miami have never met in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats went 13-10 against the Hurricanes during the 13 years they were together in the Big East — 1992-2004.
The two teams haven’t met since March 2, 2004, when Miami beat the Wildcats, 59-56, at the Pavilion.