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February 23, 2008
Villanova surprises No. 13 Connecticut
PHILADELPHIA — Villanova's young team is growing up at the right time.
Freshman Antonio Pena added 10 points for the Wildcats (17-9, 7-7 Big East), who won their third straight game and put themselves back in contention for a possible at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.
Villanova doesn't have a senior on the roster.
"Coach kept telling us we were going to be good," Reynolds said, referring to seventh-year coach Jay Wright. "Even when we were struggling, he would tell us to keep our heads up because things were going to turn around."
After a 22-point loss to city rival Saint Joseph's on Feb. 4 extended the Wildcats' losing streak to five games and dropped them to 13-8 overall, they have rebounded in a big way. Villanova has won four of five since then with the only loss being a heartbreaking 55-53 defeat at Georgetown that was decided on a foul call 75 feet from the basket with .1 seconds to play.
"This is what coaching is all about," Wright said. "We knew we'd get there. We knew we were going to be good. They took it over after the Georgetown game."
A.J. Price scored 16 points and Jeff Adrien had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut (21-6, 10-4), which hadn't lost since Jan. 17 when it fell 77-65 to Providence. The Huskies had won eight consecutive conference games since that loss, including an overtime win at South Florida on a shot by Craig Austrie with less than a second to play.
"We've had some narrow escapes," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of the winning streak that featured four victories over ranked teams. "Today, we didn't escape."
Villanova went ahead 66-62 on a driving layup by Reynolds over the outstretched arms of the 7-foot-3 Thabeet with 39 seconds remaining.
"He made a difficult shot," Thabeet said of Reynolds. "Give him credit because he got it up way over me."
The Huskies had a chance to tie the game, but Price, a 75 percent free throw shooter, made one of two from the line with 6.4 seconds left to make it 66-65.
"It felt good coming off my hand," Price said of the miss. "It just didn't fall."
Villanova's Dante Cunningham was fouled with 4.9 seconds to go, and he missed the front end of a 1-and-1. However, Pena tipped the rebound back to Cunningham, who was fouled again with 2.3 seconds remaining.
Cunningham hit the first free throw and missed the second to make it 67-65.
Price's heave from 70 feet landed way off the mark and the raucous crowd at the Wachovia Center, the home of the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers, began to celebrate.
It was Villanova's 18th game against a ranked opponent since it began playing at the arena in 1996-97 and the Wildcats are 7-11 in those games.
"We're starting to get it and the young players are stepping up," Reynolds said. "We're feeling better and better about ourselves."
Villanova took a 14-2 lead and led 33-18 when Shane Clark converted two free throws with 3:29 remaining in the first half.
But the Huskies responded with a 9-0 run to close the half - five points by Price and four by Robinson - to get within 33-27.