<
>

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.