NEW YORK (AP) — The first round of the NCAA Tournament was about as easy as could be for second-seeded Villanova. The Wildcats even got minutes for some walk-ons.
Now comes the part that has been so hard for coach Jay Wright’s team. The hurdle the Wildcats have not cleared since 2009: their second game of the NCAA Tournament.
“Everyone’s been talking about this next game coming up for the whole year, even before we got in the tournament, but it’s very humbling for us to be able to get this first win,” Daniel Ochefu said. “Just going forward in this game, we can’t think about the shortcomings in the past years. We have to focus on the things we can take care of that will help us get this “W″ on Sunday.”
Ryan Arcidiacono scored 14 points, including a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the first half, and Ochefu had 17 points and 10 rebounds as Villanova beat UNC Asheville 86-56 on Friday.
The Wildcats (30-5) will face seventh-seeded Iowa in the South Region at Barclays Center, looking to reach the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009.
The early exits, including the last two seasons as either a one or two seed, have made that Final Four seem long ago for Villanova fans.
“All season, if we would have answered those questions and we lost this game today, we’re idiots,” Wright said.
Villanova spent three weeks at No. 1 this season and won the Big East regular-season title, but faces massive pressure to reach the Sweet 16.
Another second-round loss will lead to another round of questions about NCAA flameouts.
“I’m happy for them, how they’ve handled everything to get to this point,” Wright said. “And now everyone’s going to ask the question. We’ve got to go do it. That’s the bottom line. If we don’t do it, it’s failure. But there’s nothing wrong with failure in sports if you give your best effort.”
Dylan Smith led 15th-seeded UNC Asheville (22-12) with 14 points.
UNC Asheville of the Big South was little more than a nuisance for ‘Nova. The Wildcats were settling for 3s over the Bulldogs’ zone early, but they found their range in the final three minutes of the first half after the Bulldogs got within four.
“They tried to hike the energy up a little bit, and it was our job to do the same,” Asheville’s Sam Hughes said. “I guess we just didn’t come with it at that moment.”
The Wildcats knocked down 3s on four straight trips. Arcidiacono finished the flourish with a pull-up 3 as time expired to make it 40-26.
“I think we were able to get in the lane and take out for a couple open 3s, and just ran a good play at the end of the half that we run every single day with like 4.9 seconds,” Arcidiacono said.
Villanova opened the second half getting inside and taking advantage of Asheville’s lack of height. The Bulldogs don’t have a player in their rotation over 6-foot-6. The 6-11 Ochefu, who was limited last week in the Big East Tournament by an ankle injury, scored nine points in the first eight minutes.
“Our posts were trying to do a nice job of playing behind and then trying to side front him, giving him different looks,” Bulldogs coach Nick McDevitt said. “He looked uncomfortable for a while, but like all great players, he recognized what we were doing and had a heck of a game.”
UNC Asheville: The Bulldogs shot 47.6 percent and held their own on the boards (15-13) against the Wildcats in the first half, but 10 turnovers were a huge problem. Villanova scored 21 points off those giveaways.
Villanova: Patrick Farrell, a senior walk-on from Long Island, made a 3 in the closing minute, drawing a huge cheer from the big Villanova crowd at Barclays. ... Reserve Mikal Bridges scored 12 points, one short of a career best
Villanova faces Iowa, which beat the Wildcats’ Philadelphia rivals, Temple, in overtime with a buzzer-beater. The Wildcats faced one Big Ten team this season and beat Nebraska 87-63.