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Top-seeded Villanova dominates 16 seed Radford

Brunson, Bridges lead Wildcats, who shot 59.6 percent.

Villanova's Jalen Brunson (1) drives on Radford's Ed

Villanova's Jalen Brunson (1) drives on Radford's Ed Polite Jr. during an NCAA men's college basketball tournament first-round game on March 15, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Villanova won 87-61. Photo Credit: AP / Keith Srakocic

PITTSBURGH — Everyone in college basketball knows that a No. 1 seed never has lost to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They know just as well that on the day it finally happens, that No. 1 seed will start carrying the burden of embarrassment forever. Which adds just a touch of fright to what ought to be a joyride, as Villanova now can confess.

“It may cross our minds. It may,” Jalen Brunson said when it was safe to talk about such a thing, after Villanova thrashed Radford, 87-61, Thursday night in an East Regional first-round game at PPG Paints Arena.

“I think our guys did a good job showing each other, no matter who we’re playing, no matter what the situation is, no matter what the probability of us winning is, we’re going to go out and play hard for each other,’’ Brunson said after scoring 16 points and shooting 7-for-9. “That’s all we’re going to worry about, and that’s what we do out there.”

The Wildcats (31-4) freed themselves from anxiety by blitzing the small school from Virginia right from the start. Villanova began by making three-pointer after three-pointer — connecting on seven of its first 10 tries — and was up 22-8 before Radford (23-13) knew what hit it.

Six Villanova players scored in double figures, and the team shot 59.6 percent from the floor and 51.9 percent from three-point range. Plus, it put the clamps on the Big South champion, which advanced Tuesday in a First Four game against LIU Brooklyn.

“We love playing defense. That’s what we focus on the most,” said Mikal Bridges, a prospective NBA lottery pick who had 13 points and six rebounds. “And it’s just a great feeling. We are defending and playing hard together.”

Coach Jay Wright acknowledged that the fear of making horrible history did cross his mind. He admitted that his wife was rooting hard for 16th-seeded Penn to knock off Kansas on Thursday afternoon because their daughter attends Penn.

“It’s out there. You hear it,” he said. “You’ve got to block it out of your head and concentrate on what you can control.”

Villanova was in complete control during a typical balanced stretch early in the second half, a 9-0 spurt that made the score 58-29: a driving hoop for Brunson, a three-pointer by Omari Spellman, a short jumper by Eric Paschall and a steal and dunk by Spellman. This is how it is supposed to be when 1 plays 16.

Wright has a special feeling about favorite vs. underdog matchups, though.

“I was at Hofstra. I know how good these teams are,” he said about the likes of Radford.

Wright’s 2000 Hof stra team was not a 16 seed but rather a 14 when it played Oklahoma State, but the premise was the same.

“We got hammered and it was a big moment for us. We got beat bad and we enjoyed it,” he said, thinking back 18 years, then returning to the present.

“Every chance that we see a team just so appreciative to be here, playing their hearts out to the last second, playing every possession, it’s just a great example to our guys to relish every opportunity and to respect their opponent.”

After the final buzzer, Radford players walked across the court and saluted their fans, thanking them for having been part of the exhilaration.

Center Randy Phillips said later, “I’ve had the best time of my life. These last two weeks have been number one for me. Every day, every moment. I have been smiling every day. I don’t think I quit smiling yet, since I started crying out there a couple minutes ago.”

There was no denying that history would have to wait. The dominant squad dominated.

Radford’s Justin Cousin said, “You have to tip your hat to the opponent sometimes. They made a lot of shots that we contested. It was a great ballclub.”

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