The nation's best conference has already placed one team in the NCAA Final Four. Which one will be determined when Villanova plays Pittsburgh on Saturday in the East regional final.
BOSTON — The nation's best conference has already placed one team in the NCAA Final Four. Which one will be determined when Villanova plays Pittsburgh on Saturday in the East regional final.
"It shows how great the Big East conference is," Villanova forward Dwayne Anderson said Thursday after the Wildcats trounced Duke 77-54 to earn the right to play Pitt for a spot in the Final Four. "It's just another Big East game. At this point in the season, it says a lot about the Big East."
Villanova (29-7) beat No. 1 seed Pitt (31-4) 67-57 in their regular-season meeting at Philadelphia on Jan. 28. The Panthers were ranked third at the time, and they spent three weeks as the No. 1 team in the country this season.
"When coach handed us the brackets, he only gave us the four teams in our area. We looked up and knew Pittsburgh was in that area," Dante Cunningham said. "That's something we kind of looked forward to."
Rankings and seeds have meant little to the Wildcats, who have erased more chalk from the NCAA tournament than anyone else: They're 14-12 as a lower seed since 1979, including their 1985 run to the national championship as a No. 8 seed — the lowest ever to win it all.
"Hopefully that will be some magical power that helps us beat Pitt," Wildcats guard Scottie Reynolds said. "It just shows what kind of program and tradition we have here."
The third-seeded Wildcats beat No. 2 seed Duke for the first time since 1958, getting 14 points and 11 rebounds from Cunningham. Reynolds scored 16 and Reggie Redding had 11 points and nine rebounds as Villanova won the rebounding battle 49-34 and set a school record with its 29th win.
Villanova was playing on the tournament's second weekend for the fourth time in five years, though Jay Wright's Wildcats have yet to reach the Final Four. But the fans could sense another chance, chanting "We want Pitt!" when Corey Stokes hit a 3-pointer with 2:27 left to give Villanova a 71-50 lead — its biggest of the game.
"We were never in a flow," said guard Kyle Singler, who led Duke with 15 points. "From the start, it was a snowball effect. When something got bad, it just got worse."
Duke (30-7), which spent a week at No. 1 in the nation earlier this season, failed to reach the round of eight for the fifth consecutive year. Jon Scheyer scored 13 for the second-seeded Blue Devils, but he and Gerald Henderson combined to make just four of 32 attempts as Duke shot a season-low 26.7 percent from the floor.
"We just didn't hit, didn't hit," Scheyer said. "We were getting the shots we wanted. We just weren't hitting. Obviously, we thought we played terrible in the first half and we were only down 3 points, and we were encouraged by that."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, already the winningest coach in tournament history, became the all-time leader in NCAA games coached with 93 — one more than Dean Smith, though the current format with six full rounds has only been in place since 1985. But it became obvious early on that he wouldn't be padding his lead.
After jumping to a 5-0 lead, Duke gave up the next 11 points and never led again. The Blue Devils trailed 26-23 and hit the first basket of the second half, but Villanova scored 12 of the next 13.
Worse, the 3-point shooting that got Duke past Binghamton and Texas abandoned the Blue Devils against the Wildcats. After making 45 percent and 50 percent of their 3s in the first two tournament games, Duke hit only three of their first 18 attempts and 5-of-27 overall.
"Coach K plays to win, not to try and keep it close," Wright said. "I was concerned they were going to start drilling 3s and we were going to be in trouble. But we just did a great job."