Throughout the season, the Huskies have shown mental toughness. At times, they've shown physical toughness.

But it's March now and the UConn men's basketball team is showing the most important kind of mettle — tournament toughness.

The Huskies, after a staggering start, dominated Villanova — bigger, stronger, second-seeded Villanova — on the boards. UConn outplayed its opponent with Shabazz Napier on the bench, and even more so when he returned, and when the grueling night's work was done, the Huskies had prevailed 77-65 to advance to the Round of 16, the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, hounded and constricted by the Huskies' defense, could only put up a lot of threes, and made enough of them to stay in the game. But, really, after falling behind 19-9, the Huskies controlled the game, taking the lead with a 16-1 run, holding the 'Cats without a field goal for more than 11 minutes. Villanova (29-5) led briefly early in the second half, but Napier's series of three-pointers kept the Wildcats at bay.

The Huskies (28-9) advance to the East Regional semifinal, to play either North Carolina or Iowa State at Madison Square Garden in New York City, site of some of the most significant wins in UConn's history.

Napier had to sit for most of the first half after getting his second foul, and a chunk of the second half after getting his third. But while he was in there, he had his shooting touch, going 9-for-13 from the floor. His three-pointer with 8:59 to play extended UConn's lead to 11 points, 51-40.

Napier had 25 points in roughly as many minutes, leaving the game a third time, this time with assistance, with 4:02 to go after twisting his right ankle, leaving his teammates to hold a five-point lead until he returned 1:30 later and made a spectacular drive and layup to give UConn a 60-51 lead with 2:17 to go. Freshman Terrence Samuel played spirited defense whenever Napier was on the bench — and added 11 points.

Moments after No. 11 Dayton pulled its second successive upset, eliminating Syracuse, UConn and Villanova came out to start their game at 10 p.m.

The Huskies got off on awkward footing. DeAndre Daniels missed a wide-open mid-range jumper, and the Wildcats got off on the break. When Phil Nolan was called for an intentional foul, Villanova got five quick points, the last three on Ryan Arcidiacono's three to take a 7-0 lead.

UConn settled in, Napier driving through the lane to score and Daniels hitting a three to make it 9-5. But Villanova was getting to loose balls, and one led to an Arcidiacono lay-in to extend the 'Cats lead to 13-5 — and coach Kevin Ollie called time with 15:45 to go in the half.

The Huskies were having trouble with Villanova's trapping defense, and took a serious blow when Napier drew his second foul, a charge, with 12 minutes to go in the half and Villanova leading, 16-9. In came Samuel, whom UConn desperately needed to play like a veteran, to stay close for as long as possible with their best player on the bench.

They were able to hang in there, especially on the boards, and Daniels hit an open three to pull them within four points, 20-16, with 6:53 to go. Lasan Kromah, who finished with 12 points, scored on a runner, and Ryan Boatright struck like lightning through the lane to tie the game with a layup, 20-20, with 4:22 to go.