Buffalo, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Darrun Hilliard had 16 points and Villanova pulled away in the second half Thursday night to beat Milwaukee 73-53 in the NCAA Tournament.
The second-seeded Wildcats outscored the 15th-seeded Panthers 46-30 after the break and advanced in the East Region to face seventh-seeded Connecticut on Saturday.
JayVaughn Pinkston had 13 points and James Bell scored 12 for Villanova (29-4), which won its first regular-season Big East title in eight years but fell to Seton Hall on a buzzer beater in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament last Thursday, snapping a six-game winning streak.
Austin Arians scored 17 points to lead Horizon League champion Milwaukee (21-14), which had a five-game winning streak snapped after an unexpected run through the conference tournament.
"This experience was unbelievable," said Arians. "We were picked to finish last (in the conference) in the preseason poll, and we ended up winning the conference tournament and getting the chance to come here, which was unbelievable.
"Every guy on this team has stepped up at some point during the year. I can't give enough credit to every single person on this team. Everybody had their moments and had a great time doing what we accomplished this year. It was awesome."
Either way the bracket above them shook out, the Wildcats were going to see an old rival in the next round.
Connecticut -- Villanova's former Big East foe -- needed overtime to get rid of Saint Joseph's, which plays an annual rivalry game against the Wildcats in the Philadelphia area's Big 5.
Prior to Thursday's game, Villanova had just one win in three NCAA Tournament appearances since losing to North Carolina in the 2009 Final Four.
The Wildcats turned it on late in the first half. After Milwaukee took a 23-18 lead on Matt Tiby's layup, they scored the last nine points before the break, with Hilliard getting five.
The overall run was 14-0 extending into the second half. Pinkston scored the last five points himself on a three-point play and a layup, giving Villanova a 32-23 lead.
Milwaukee never got closer than four after that and the Wildcats pulled away down the stretch.
"That was not, as everyone here knows, a 20-point game," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "Milwaukee is a really tough team and hard to play against. Their defense was outstanding.
"I thought our patience and our defense got us through the first half until we could hit some shots and get some stops and get out in transition the second half. But I give them a lot of credit. I was really, really proud of our guys not making shots and still continuing to defend and play hard."
The Panthers made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, when they lost in the second round while making their third appearance in four years.
They have big upsets on their resume, making the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed in 2005 under Bruce Pearl after beating Alabama and Boston College. A year later, they knocked off Oklahoma as a No. 11.
Milwaukee represented the Horizon League in the tournament after going just 7-9 in conference play during the regular season. Its run through the league tourney included an upset of top seed Green Bay in the semifinals.