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Villanova holds on for first 7-0 start since 1995-96

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The reasons suggested for Villanova's
tightest game yet came at Allan Ray faster than a Penn scoring
flurry.

The third-ranked Wildcats were due for a letdown. They were
tired. Anything can happen at the Palestra.

Ray wouldn't bite.

"I don't think that happened," he said. "Penn's just a real
good team. They went right at Duke."

The Quakers came right at the Wildcats, too, even if it was a
bit late.

Ray scored 19 points and Villanova withstood a 24-7 run late in
the second half to beat pesky Penn 62-55 on Tuesday night.

Randy Foye scored 16 points and Mike Nardi had 14 for the
Wildcats (7-0), who got off to a shaky start in the first of three
straight games against their Big 5 city rivals before opening the
Big East season at No. 4 Louisville on Jan. 5.

"It wasn't the prettiest game, but give Penn credit. They
didn't quit," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "It's the Big 5. I
didn't expect anything less."

The Quakers (3-4) put quite a scare into Villanova's first 7-0
start since 1995-96. Penn already played the No. 1 team in the
country, losing 72-59 at Duke only six days ago.

With top reserve Steve Danley out with a concussion and leading
scorer Ibrahim Jaaber held to one point in the first half, the
Quakers found themselves down by 21 early in the second.

Then Jaaber got rolling, the Wildcats couldn't buy a basket and
this turned into another city series classic.

Every Penn basket in the second half was a layup until Jaaber
hit a 3 that made it 55-40 with 6:40 left. The Quakers had missed
all 18 3-point attempts until Jaaber, who scored 14 points, hit one
from the right side.

Mark Zoller converted a Villanova turnover into a layup, then
Penn forced a jump ball that led to two free throws from Friedrich
Ebede that got the deficit to 11. With the Penn student section
clad in red and rocking the famed home of the Big 5 like they would
for a game this big, Jaaber made two more free throws to make it
55-46.

"We wanted to keep our heads in the game and not let it get out
of hand," Jaaber said.

With Gov. Ed Rendell applauding the Penn rally from the stands,
Ebede went strong inside for another basket to make it 55-48.

Jaaber hit a jumper from the right and punched his fist in the
air as the crowd erupted. After another Villanova miss, Jaaber
delivered again, this time making one of two free throws that
pulled the Quakers to 55-51 with just under 2 minutes left.

Wright, already nervously glancing at the scoreboard after every
basket, erupted at the refs after the Wildcats were whistled for a
technical for having too many players on the court. Jaaber went to
the free throw line and hit both shots, pulling the Quakers to
57-53 and capping the incredible run.

"It's nice we had a run in us," Penn coach Fran Dunphy.

Ray's layup with 12:28 left in the half was Villanova's last
field goal until Foye's pull-up jumper with 52 seconds left pushed
the lead to 59-53 and the Wildcats survived their toughest test
yet.

"It's their home court and they played with great intensity,"
Wright said. "We couldn't put them away."

Ebede finished with 13 points and Zoller had 12 for the Quakers.

"They're not one-dimensional players, they can shoot the
ball," Wright said. "Ebede's good off the dribble. He hurt us."

The Wildcats were 7-for-22 from the field in the second half and
committed 15 turnovers in the game.

"No matter what, we stay together and keep playing hard," Foye
said.

Kyle Lowry, one of Villanova's four starting guards scoring in
double digits, played only 1 minute in the first half after picking
up two quick fouls, and was held scoreless.

Villanova's win came a day before the 50th anniversary of the
first Big 5 game when Saint Joseph's beat the Wildcats 83-70 in
front of 2,636 fans at the Palestra. The fantastic finishes have
been coming ever since.

"Crazy things happen in this place," Wright said. "It's a
great atmosphere. It should make you stronger later in the year."