Fouls were the culprit. All five Villanova starters had four personals each with just more than four minutes to play. Using four reserves, Wright tried his best to get most starters out when the Wildcats were on defense and get them back on offense.
"It was crazy," he said. "We were platoon subbing. It was like a hockey game, lines going in there. But when you have a lead and you're doing that, you say to yourself, 'This is good for us through all this adversity, with guys playing different positions.' "
Villanova's two primary ball handlers, Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns, picked up their fourth fouls at 11 minutes, 53 seconds and 9:02, respectively. Without them, advancing the ball against Cincinnati's press was an adventure, evidenced by 10 second-half turnovers (19 for the game).
But neither Fisher, who scored 20 of his 21 points in the first half before getting foul No. 3 with 11 seconds left before intermission, nor Wayns, who added 15, let up on the gas pedal one bit.
"My job being the captain and the leader of the team, I've got to play hard for 40 minutes," Fisher said. "If I foul out, we've got guys like Maalik that are going to step up. If Maalik's in foul trouble and I'm not, I've got to pick it up. That's what we've got teammates for."
Added Wayns: "If you take my aggressiveness away, my game is not the same. So I just try to play my game the same way."
The Bearcats (15-1, 2-1), playing a ranked team for the first time this season, trailed by 46-25 only 90 seconds into the second half but were more than happy to capitalize on Villanova's foul problems.
A 14-3 run narrowed the gap to 10. Cincinnati cut the deficit to seven twice, the second time on two free throws by Cashmere Wright that made it 57-50 with 9:02 to play. The Bearcats could have cut it to five on their next trip, but failed.
The Wildcats regained some equilibrium on two free throws by Wayns and a three-point play by Dominic Cheek and managed to stay in front while never feeling quite comfortable. Cincinnati scored just five points in the final 51/2 minutes.
"We had to start our comeback from too far behind," Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said.
Villanova reserves Isaiah Armwood and James Bell made fine contributions. Armwood had six rebounds and four blocked shots in 19 minutes. Bell, a freshman who is still trying to find his stride after injuries kept him out of preseason practice, pulled down four boards in nine minutes.
"We got guys playing time," Villanova's Wright said. "Guys were in difficult situations. Guys looked bad sometimes, and then coaching is a little bit more important to them. I think they know they need to learn some things. So in that sense, it was good for us."
The Bearcats, who were led by Rashad Bishop with 14 points, had played a schedule ranked 312th out of 345 Division I teams by CollegeRPI.com. They obviously had some problems adjusting to Villanova's speed in the first half but eventually made a game of it.
"It happened to us playing Tennessee," Wright said. "We got into a physical game, and we hadn't been in one like that before. We didn't handle it well. They're going to be very good. They have all the pieces."
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org.