TAMPA, Fla. -- Villanova coach Jay Wright didn't offer any excuses.
His Wildcats (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) struggled offensively in Saturday's 70-61 victory over South Florida, with the pesky Bulls finding a way to stay close despite not shooting well themselves.
"Just a good old Big East game," Wright said. "I think they're tough. They're physical. ... We couldn't score."
Dante Cunningham, limited because of foul trouble, had 14 points and Scottie Reynolds made four free throws in the final 1:07 to help Villanova (15-4, 3-3) rebound from a loss at No. 3 Connecticut and climb back to .500 in the conference.
The Wildcats took control of the game with a 10-3 run during which USF (7-12, 2-5) missed the front end of two 1-and-1s and saw leading scorer Dominique Jones pick up his fourth and fifth fouls.
Reggie Redding's layup put Villanova ahead 49-48 with 9 minutes to go, and Dwayne Anderson followed with a 3-pointer. USF got within 60-58 down the stretch, but poor shooting from the field and the free-throw line undermined any opportunity for an upset.
"That's just a part of the Big East. All of these games are nailbiters," said Anderson, who had seven points and 11 rebounds. "That's what makes this conference so great."
Reynolds was limited to seven points on 1-for-5 shooting but went 4-of-6 from the line. Cunningham was 6-of-12 from the field and finished with eight rebounds in 19 minutes.
USF, which shot 28 percent from the field in the second half, was 16-for-29 from the free-throw line.
Augustus Gilchrist had 18 points and seven rebounds for South Florida, but the 6-foot-10 freshman missed three free throws in a span of 11 seconds with the Bulls trailing by two in the final two minutes.
Jones, averaging just under 19 points per game, scored 11 before fouling out with 5:28 to go and USF trailing 55-51. Corey Stokes made two free throws, then added a long 3-pointer to put Villanova up 60-53.
"I thought Jones fouling out was big because he forces you to commit more than one guy to him and creates offensive rebounding," Wright said. "He gets other guys shots."
USF played without one of its top reserves, Mobolaji Ajayi, who will miss the rest of the season after partially tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in practice on Thursday.
The Bulls, who played well in recent weeks before faltering down the stretch of losses to Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia, fell to 0-9 against ranked opponents under second-year coach Stan Heath.
"We can't fault our guys for their effort. But it's not enough for us to get close. We've got to find a way to to finish games like this," Heath said. "Unfortunately it just didn't happen today."
Villanova didn't get any scoring from Cunningham in the last 14 minutes of the first half, and Reynolds had just three points on 1-for-4 shooting, yet the Wildcats were able to finish the opening 20 minutes tied 32-32.
Cunningham keyed a surge that enabled Villanova to open a seven-point lead early in the second half, but he picked up his fourth foul with a little more than 11 minutes to go and USF battled back to tie it on Gilchrist's 3-pointer and nudge ahead for the final time, 48-47, when Jones made one of two free throws with 9:31 left.
Redding, who fouled out, scored 11 points and Stokes and Corey Fisher both finished with 10 as Villanova's reserves outscored USF's 25-1.
"We battled them. But to beat a team like that, for us, a few things have to happen," Heath said. "We've got to make some of the open shots that we get because you don't get a lot of them against Villanova. And, you've got to make your free throws."