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No. 6 Villanova Hangs on to Beat South Florida, 49-46

Jan. 24, 2006

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Poor shooting nearly cost Villanova on the road again.

Randy Foye scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half and the sixth-ranked Wildcats rallied to beat South Florida 49-46 Tuesday night despite playing without second-leading scorer Allan Ray.

Ray strained a hamstring in practice this week, and Villanova (14-2, 5-1 Big East) nearly didn't have enough offensive support for Foye to avoid an upset. The Wildcats shot 29.6 percent from the field and wouldn't have held on if South Florida hadn't been even worse at 29.2 percent.

"That was a good experience for us. I think this game is going to really make us stronger," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of playing without Ray, who averages more than 18 points per game.

The Wildcats won for the third straight time since losing 58-55 at Texas on Jan. 14, a game in which they shot 27.4 percent.

"You have to learn from the Texas game, and we learned that if we shoot that poorly that if we have to win, we're good enough to win. That's what we proved today," said Foye, adding the Wildcats never felt in serious trouble.

"Coach spoke to us during a timeout and said this is what the Big East is all about. ... We know that every game on the road, this is what it's going to come down to. South Florida is a tough team."

Indeed, USF has played better than its record recently.

Melvin Buckley had 12 points for the Bulls (6-13, 0-6), who have lost eight in a row and are still looking for their first conference win as a member of the Big East. However, five of their six league losses have been by six points or less.

"It didn't take South Florida long at all to find out how to play like a Big East team," Wright said. "That team is going to win some games in this league."



Foye and Mike Nardi hit 3-pointers to key a 10-0 run that enabled Villanova to turn a seven-point deficit into a 48-45 lead with 3:19 to go.

Foye's 3 put the Wildcats ahead for good barely a minute after James Holmes hit a long 3 to put South Florida up 45-38 with just under 6 minutes left.

McHugh Mattis hit a free throw to pull South Florida within 48-46 with 1:47 remaining. The Bulls had three opportunities to tie or take the lead, but turned the ball over on one possession and Holmes and Mattis missed 3-pointers on the others.

The Bulls, who have also played West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown and Seton Hall close, didn't take solace in another narrow defeat.

"If we're not convinced that we can play with people, then we'll never be convinced," center Solomon Jones said. "I think most of our guys are convinced that we can just line up with anybody out there."

Foye rebounded from missing nine of 11 shots in the first half to finish 8-for-23 from the field, including 4-of-13 from behind the 3-point arc. Kyle Lowry and Nardi tried to take up the slack for Ray, but were limited to eight points each on 5-for-20 shooting.

The Bulls blew a 12-point lead with less than 4 minutes remaining in regulation before losing in overtime at Seton Hall last Friday night. This time, an inability to take care of the ball on the offensive end sealed their fate.

Villanova missed 23 of 29 shots in the first half and trailed 21-18.

Jones contributed to the Wildcats' frustration with four of the Bulls' eight blocked shots in the first 20 minutes. The 6-foot-10 center finished with five blocks and a career-high 17 rebounds.

"I couldn't be prouder of the effort," USF coach Robert McCullum said.

"The guys did everything that we asked them to do - things that we needed to do to position ourselves to have a chance to win against just an outstanding team - an experienced team, which I thought in the end was the difference in the game."