BY DAVE ZEITLIN
VILLANOVA, Pa. — Josh Hart cocked his arm back like a quarterback and threw a deep pass across the court into the waiting arms of Daniel Ochefu. In one motion, Ochefu caught the ball and redirected it to Ryan Arcidiacono, who made a buzzer-beating jumper and celebrated all the way to the locker room.
It was a fitting end to a dominant first half for No. 8 Villanova, who slowed DePaul’s quick Big East start with an 81-64 rout Saturday.
“That was a great first half for us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We really played well on both ends of the floor in the first half.”
Darrun Hilliard scored 21 points and Arcidiacono added 14 for the Wildcats (15-1 overall, 3-1), who shot 53.6 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from 3-point range.
Villanova made a season-high 13 3-pointers on 27 attempts, with Hilliard and Arcidiacono leading the way with four apiece.
Arcidiacono, Villanova’s junior point guard and leader, also dished four assists, made a couple of diving hustle plays for loose balls and hit the well-executed first-half buzzer beater to give the Wildcats a commanding 45-24 lead at the break.
“We work on that every day in practice,” Arcidiacono said. “It was great that we could actually do it in a game for once. Josh threw a great pass, Daniel caught it and made a great pass to me and luckily I made it.”
Villanova made its final eight shots of the first half against the Blue Demons (9-8, 3-1), who entered alone in first place in the Big East after surprisingly winning its first three conference games.
JayVaughn Pinkston added nine points and six rebounds for the Wildcats, who outscored DePaul 30-10 in the paint.
Tommy Hamilton led the Blue Demons with 12 points and Darrick Wood added 10.
“I thought Villanova came out and hit us with a pretty good blow,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “We didn’t react very well to it.”
The Wildcats, whose only loss came last week at Seton Hall, quickly showed why they were the preseason choice to win the Big East while DePaul was picked last.
Villanova reeled off a 13-0 run to take a 16-5 lead with just under 12 minutes remaining in the first half. The spurt began with back-to-back 3-pointers from Hilliard and was capped by a ferocious one-handed slam from Ochefu.
The Wildcats boosted their lead to 24-9 and surged to a 37-14 advantage with three minutes left on a quick 11-0 run spurred by consecutive Arcidiacono 3-pointers.
“When you get a lead like that at halftime, it’s pretty tough for a team in the second half,” Wright said. “I thought the first half was the key to the game.”
The Wildcats continued to pour it on after the break and led by as many as 34 points in the second half before emptying their bench at the final TV timeout.
For the Blue Demons, being dominated from the start shows just how far they have to go to contend for a conference title, even after they set a program record by winning its first three league games.
“We told the team it’s going to get harder,” Purnell said. “We were playing one of the top 10 teams of the country and a team picked first in the league. It’s going to get harder, and this is a great example of that.”
DePaul: The Blue Demons have lost 49 straight games to ranked opponents. Their last win over a ranked opponent came against Villanova on Jan. 3, 2008. . DePaul finished with 15 turnovers and seven assists.
Villanova: The Wildcats have won nine straight meetings against DePaul and hold a 19-8 advantage in the series. . Villanova shot 62 percent from the floor in the first half and 58 percent from 3-point range.
Wright said he wasn’t surprised to see a DePaul team picked last in the Big East get off to a 3-0 start in league play.
“I’ve been saying all along that the great thing about this league is every year we can have five or six teams going to the NCAA tournament — and also every year the bottom four can be in the top four,” the Wright said. “Anyone can be up there at any time. So it’s not a shock.”
DePaul: hosts Georgetown on Tuesday.
Villanova: hosts Xavier on Wednesday.