BOSTON -- You could tell by the looks on the faces of the Duke players in the first half that the ferocity Villanova was displaying on defense was not something they expected or experienced. The Wildcats, at times, seemed like they had seven players on the court. They were anywhere and everywhere, running the shooters off their shots and recovering to help in the lane when the ball actually got in there. A team simply can't play defense any better, especially when you consider how offensively efficient Duke usually is.
Duke, a team that loves to play fast and space the court, had to go slower and got little or no space at TD Banknorth Garden. It only took a few trips up and down the court to realize that the speed edge Villanova appeared to have on paper was even more pronounced on the court.
It was like that early, in the middle and in the end. Villanova won as convincingly as you can win a game at this stage of the NCAA Tournament, holding Duke to just 16-for-60 shooting (27 percent) and winning 77-54. The last time a Duke team lost like this in the NCAA, it was that infamous 1990 championship game when UNLV beat them by 30.
Villanova, the third seed in the East Regional, faces top-seeded Pittsburgh on Saturday at 7:05. Villanova beat then-No. 3 Pitt, 67-57, on Jan. 28 in the last college basketball game played at the Spectrum. Pittsburgh advanced tonight with a win over fourth-seeded Xavier.
If you just watched the game without a scoreboard, you would have thought the 'Cats had a double-digit lead. But they could not shake Duke, which was getting to the foul line just enough to stay within hailing distance. Villanova was getting almost all its points on drives and post-ups, outscoring the Blue Devils by 18-6 in the lane and getting 11 second-chance points over the first 20 minutes.
You could have predicted a lot about this game, but few would have predicted the halftime leader would have less than 30 points. This really looked like a game where it would take 80 to win.
Gerald Henderson, who got just about every Villanova defender at one time or another, also got two early fouls. But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, perhaps sensing the game could get away from his team, rolled the dice late in the first half and put ``G'' back into the game. His two free throws with 70 seconds left were his only points of the half. He missed all five of his shots from he field. In fact, Duke's three top scorers, Henderson, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, shot a combined 3-for-20
Yet, the Blue Devils trailed just 26-23 at the break.
Villanova was getting a much better class of shots, but the 'Cats made almost nothing outside the lane and squandered several chances to run its lead out to double digits. They gave Duke life when it didn't really look they had much.
The Devils scored the first basket of the second half and, before you could even think of how the lead really should have been much more, the ;Cats scored six straight and Coach K, again sensing trouble, called timeout just 126 seconds after play resumed.
It only got worse. Villanova was driving the ball, pounding it into the low post or both. Nine of the 'Cats first 10 second-half baskets were layups, dunks or follow shots. That two-point lead became 16 in barely 7 minutes.
"Attack, attack don't settle for jump shots,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright told his team during one timeout. ``Drive it, drive it, drive it.''
Coming out the huddles, Villanova players, as they have done all season, chanted ``attitude.''
They had plenty of that from beginning to end. Duke had no answers for that or anything else.
With Henderson on the bench with four fouls and unable to make a shot when he was on it (he was 0-for-11 until he finally knocked in a three), Coach K was trying every combination of players he could think of. He was calling timeouts much quicker than he wanted. He was pressing with a team ill equipped to press. Each team was in the bonus with 13 minutes left which offered some hope for Duke. But the Blue Devils were even leaving some freebies short, the sign of a very tired team that had been worn out by the pressure. Nothing the Hall of Fame coach tried was working.
If one play summed up the night for Duke, it was when Scheyer got his shot blocked by one `Nova player and another Wildcat threw the ball off Singler out of bounds. That went down right before the final media timeout. Those final 3 1/2 minutes were just something to do. This game was decided long before.
And with Villanova's dominating win, the Big East had three teams in the Final Eight with two more playing Friday.