BOSTON – No team has erased more chalk from the NCAA tournament than Villanova.
The third-seeded Wildcats beat Duke for the first time in more than 50 years Thursday night, getting 14 points and 11 rebounds from Dante Cunningham to win 77-54 and advance to the East regional final. It was Villanova’s 14th NCAA victory over a higher-seeded team – the most in tournament history.
“Hopefully, that will be some magical power that helps us beat Pitt,” Wildcats guard Scottie Reynolds said.
Villanova (29-7) will play Big East rival and No. 1 seed Pittsburgh (31-4) on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four. The Wildcats beat Pitt 67-57 in their regular-season meeting at Philadelphia on Jan. 28.
“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,” Cunningham said. “That’s something we kind of looked forward to.”
The Panthers spent three weeks as the No. 1 team in the country this season. They were ranked third when they faced Villanova. But rankings and seeds have meant little to the Wildcats: They’re 14-12 as a lower seed since 1979, including their 1985 run to the national championship as a No. 8 seed.
“It just shows what kind of program and tradition we have here,” Reynolds said.
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 thus far in 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 straight year.
Jon Scheyer had 13 for the second-seeded Blue Devils, but he and Gerald Henderson combined to make 4 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 three points, and we were encouraged by that.”