Feb. 5, 2005
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
It was another thrilling finish for the 24th-ranked Wildcats (13-5, 5-4 Big East), who have won four of five and had their seventh conference game decided by less than 10 points.
Providence (11-11, 0-8) stayed close until the Wildcats used a 14-4 run midway through the second half to get a double-digit cushion and hold off the pesky Friars.
Ryan Gomes led Providence with a career-high 32 points on 10-for-22 shooting. He made three 3-pointers and all nine shots from the free throw line.
Villanova parlayed wins over Kansas and Notre Dame into its first national ranking since the 1996-97 season. The Wildcats' stay in the Top 25 could be brief because they lost to No. 23 Connecticut on Wednesday.
What really mattered to the Wildcats is returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Though Villanova is making a strong case for at least an at-large bid, nothing is certain with games left against No. 8 Syracuse (Feb. 12), No. 16 Pittsburgh (Feb. 20) and No. 5 Boston College (Feb. 23).
Providence sliced a 16-point deficit down to six, using 3-pointers from Tukka Kotti, Jeff Parmer and Gomes as part of the scoring spurt. Then the Wildcats, playing in front of former star Kerry Kittles, took over.
Kyle Lowry, Villanova's energetic reserve, was fouled and crashed hard on a driving layup, then converted the three-point play with a free throw. Sumpter followed with another three-point play after he was fouled on a breakaway dunk.
Foye followed with a twisting layup off a long outlet pass off a defensive rebound and Lowry sank a couple of free throws for a 64-48 lead.
Providence, though, never let the game get totally out reach. Donnie McGrath and Gomes hit consecutive 3s to cut Villanova's lead to 10. Two free throws by Gomes made it 77-73 with 1:50 left.
With both teams out of timeouts at the 2:30 mark, only free throws slowed down the game.
With Providence forced to foul, the Wildcats went 12-for-14 from the line.
The Wildcats made 36 of 44 free throws overall; Providence went 16-for-20.
The close finish sure was familiar to Villanova.
The Wildcats needed overtime to knock off the Friars last month, though that was hardly their biggest scare - their plane back home was forced to make an emergency landing in snowy Rhode Island.
Providence played its seventh ranked team this year and has the second toughest schedule strength in the RPI ratings.
Villanova women's coach Harry Perretta was honored during the game for his 500th career victory.