Villanova wins, wraps up double bye

Posted: March 05, 2009

When the preseason predictions had Villanova finishing fifth in the Big East Conference, a few eyebrows were raised. Did the Wildcats have what it would take to lock horns with the powers in arguably the toughest league in America?

The final answer came tonight.

Yup.

The 11th-ranked Wildcats seized the opportunity to capture a double bye in next week's Big East tournament, wrapping up the fourth seed with a sharp effort at both ends of the floor in a 97-80 win over Providence at the Pavilion in their regular-season finale.

Villanova (25-6, 13-5 Big East) gets six days off before beginning play next Thursday at New York's Madison Square Garden. The bye through the first two rounds means the Cats need to win just three games to grab the conference championship and the automatic NCAA bid.

Scottie Reynolds led five Villanova players in double figures with 23 points, going 5 for 9 from three-point range. Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham, seniors playing their final game at the Pavilion, added 19 points each.

Reggie Redding played a superb floor game with 11 assists, the most by a Villanova player this season. The Wildcats finished with a season-high 26 assists.

The Friars (18-12, 10-8), who have clinched a first-round bye in the tournament, committed 22 turnovers, leading to 36 points by Villanova.

The Wildcats took control midway through the second half after their 12-point first-half advantage was cut to three on a few occasions. Corey Fisher led a 7-0 run with two free throws, a three-point basket, and a steal that set up Reynolds' layup and built the lead back to 12, at 63-51, with 11 minutes, 32 seconds remaining.

About two minutes later, Antonio Pena sank a layup and Reynolds drilled a trey to boost the advantage to 70-57 with about 91/2 minutes to play.

The Friars kept threatening thanks to the shooting of Weyinmi Efejuku, who led all scorers with 29 points. Efejuku scored Providence's next 12 points after Reynolds' three-pointer, but the Friars couldn't come up with stops at their defensive end.

Providence pulled to within 83-75 at the 3:36 mark before Villanova put the game away with a 13-0 run paced by two baskets from Cunningham and a three-ball from Corey Stokes.

With the victory, Villanova tied a school record for regular-season wins. Three previous squads - 1937-38, 1949-50 and 1950-51 - had 25 in the regular season.

The Wildcats finished 5-0 in the Big East at the Pavilion, where they have won 28 straight games. Their only two home losses came at the Wachovia Center, both one-possession defeats against Louisville and Georgetown.

They swept Providence and Syracuse and never lost back-to-back games the entire season. In overall play, Villanova went 19-0 against teams ranked below No. 50 in the RPI.

The Wildcats shot about 50 percent from the field in racing out to a 12-point lead tonight, then saw their shooting go shaky in the final seven minutes of the first half. Still, they managed to hold a 40-34 lead at intermission.

Villanova hit only two of its final 13 shots in the half, a pair of three-pointers by Stokes. The Cats finished the half shooting just 38.9 percent from the field but capitalized on 11 Providence turnovers, scoring 15 points. Reynolds and Cunningham each had three steals.

Reynolds led 'Nova with 10 points in the first half, while Stokes added eight. Efejuku led the Friars with 12, all in the opening 4:02.

A three-point basket by Shane Clark with 7:44 to play gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the half, 32-20. But the Friars roared back into the game with a 14-5 run led by seven points from Marshon Brooks, including a dunk with 1:13 remaining that brought the visitors to within 37-34.


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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