(2) Villanova 74

(22-2, 12-1 Big East)

Cincinnati 72

(18-10, 7-7 Big East)

9:00 PM ET, February 23, 2006

Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio

1 2 T
#2VILL 40 3474
CIN 34 3872

Top Performers

Villanova: R. Foye 25 Pts, 14 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 Blk

Cincinnati: E. Hicks 21 Pts, 9 Reb, 1 Stl, 4 Blk

Cunningham's late layup lifts No. 2 'Nova past pesky Bearcats

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Pick. Pass. Layup. Villanova's winning basket came just that easy.

Nothing else did.

Randy Foye had 25 points and Dante Cunningham scored off an inbounds play with 3.2 seconds left, leading No. 2 Villanova to its 11th straight win Thursday night, 74-72 over Cincinnati.

The Wildcats (22-2, 12-1) wasted a 12-point lead down the stretch before pulling out a win that kept them in control of the Big East and gave them a taste of what comes next.

Playing with a No. 2 ranking for the first time in 10 years, Villanova also extended a few notable streaks. The Wildcats matched the best start in school history -- they also did it in 1937-38 -- and set a school record with their 11th straight win in the Big East.

"Teams play at another level against us, and we're learning to handle that," coach Jay Wright said.

They had to fight off the temptation to look past this one. The Wildcats go to Connecticut on Sunday for a rematch with the third-ranked Huskies, the team they beat on Feb. 13 to take control of the Big East.

Their rematch shapes up as a game to decide the regular-season title, and the Wildcats know what to expect.

"Cincinnati plays as hard as any team in the Big East, and this environment is as difficult as any in the Big East," Wright said. "We're going to see the same thing Sunday. It's like we set this up for perfect preparation."

On the other side, this one meant a lot to Cincinnati (18-10, 7-7), which went into a nosedive after forward Armein Kirkland tore a knee ligament on Jan. 9. Four wins in the last six games put the Bearcats back in the running for an NCAA tournament berth.

A victory over Villanova -- the highest-ranked opponent to play in Cincinnati's 17-year-old arena -- would have underscored their worthiness.

With a late 16-4 run led by power forward Eric Hicks, the Bearcats showed they had enough to keep up, not quite enough to pull it out.

"Either they're overrated or we're underrated, one of the two," Cincinnati point guard Devan Downey said.

Hicks, playing on two sprained ankles, made a pair of free throws and a putback that gave Cincinnati its first lead since the opening minutes, 72-70. Foye's free throws tied it with 53.9 seconds left, and Downey was called for a charge on Shane Clark.

On an inbounds play under the basket, Cunningham broke free and made an uncontested layup from the right side for only his second basket of the game.

"That's a play we run all the time," said Foye, who added a career-high 14 rebounds. "We have plays for 7 seconds left and plays for 4 seconds left. We just ran the play, and they left Dante wide open."

He came off a pick and had no one guarding him.

"It was a simple screen and we handled it poorly," interim coach Andy Kennedy said. "All five guys mishandled it and, as a result, we gave up a layup."

Hicks' 3-pointer at the buzzer was too hard. He finished with 21 points. Allan Ray added 19 points for Villanova.

For most of the game, it didn't figure to be so close. At the outset, the Bearcats struggled under the pressure -- some self-imposed, most of it from Villanova's energetic, four-guard lineup. Cincinnati made only three baskets in the first 12 minutes, going 3-for-17 from the field while Villanova pulled ahead by 11 points.

Foye and Ray had 13 apiece in the first half, which ended with Villanova up 40-34.

Cincinnati started taking advantage of Villanova's defense by hitting pull-up jumpers in the second half. Muhammad's floater cut it to 40-36 at the outset.

Ray's fall-away 3-pointer -- his back hit the floor as the ball met the net -- blunted the comeback and set up a back-and-forth pace that held until midway through the half.

Foye made a three-point play and a 17-foot jumper that helped Villanova pull ahead 66-54 midway through the half. Forward James White, Cincinnati's top scorer and defender, picked up his fourth foul on Foye's three-point play, leaving the Bearcats in deep trouble.

Down, but not yet out.

Hicks' three-point play sparked an 11-0 run that cut it to 68-67. Moore's 3-pointer from the right corner made it a one-point game with 4:07 left.

Both teams lost key players to fouls -- Cincinnati's White and 6-foot-8 forward Will Sheridan, the only big man in Villanova's lineup. With Sheridan gone, Hicks asserted himself and brought the Bearcats the rest of the way back.

With the Bearcats' makeshift lineup staying close in the second half, fans stood and cheered "Hire Andy!" during a second-half timeout. Kennedy has held the Bearcats together throughout a chaotic season that started with Bob Huggins' ouster in August.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

Points 74 72
FG Made-Attempted 27-66 (.409) 21-58 (.362)
3P Made-Attempted 9-23 (.391) 7-16 (.438)
FT Made-Attempted 11-16 (.688) 23-27 (.852)
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 21 (0/0) 20 (0/0)
Largest Lead 12 2

2005-06 Season

» Feb 23, 2006 VILL 74, @CIN 72Recap