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Strong Second Half Propels Wildcats Into BIG EAST Semifinals

March 9, 2006

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NEW YORK (AP) - The Villanova Wildcats sat in their hotel rooms and watched while top-ranked Connecticut's run in the Big East tournament ended with one stunning loss.

The nation's No. 2 team was determined to avoid a similar fate, not with a top overall seed in the NCAA tournament a very real possibility.

"After we watched UConn lose, everyone realized that anything can happen in these tournaments," Allan Ray said. "And you've got to come out ready to play."

Ray scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half as Villanova went on a decisive run and pulled away from Rutgers for an 87-55 victory Thursday night to advance to the semifinals of the Big East tournament.

Villanova, the Big East's regular-season co-champion with No. 1 Connecticut, trailed by one early in the second half but avoided the type of upset that eliminated the Huskies earlier in the day. Connecticut was stunned by ninth-seeded Syracuse 86-84 in overtime.

"We all came down to eat dinner together and I just got up in front of them and said, `Hey, we just saw what happened,"' coach Jay Wright said. "I said, `Everyone's been talking about a matchup with UConn, and it's not going to happen now for them. If we don't beat Rutgers, it's not going to happen (for us)."'

Will Sheridan added 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Wildcats (25-3), who will play the winner of the late Pittsburgh-West Virginia game on Friday night.

"We were just like, `Man, listen, the No. 1 team is out and it could easily happen to us,"' Ray said. "We don't want to be the ones going home. We worked too hard for it."

Quincy Douby scored 31 points - 24 in the first half - to lead 10th-seeded Rutgers (18-13), which will wait for the NIT announcement to see if it plays another game under coach Gary Waters. The Scarlet Knights' coach announced March 1 he would resign at the end of the season.



"I think the phone will ring," Waters said. "I mean, they have to be pretty smart about that. They want people here at Madison Square Garden. I think these kids deserve it - they deserve a call."

Rutgers, which surprised Seton Hall 61-48 in the opening round, took a 35-34 lead on Ollie Bailey's layup 25 seconds into the second half. But any designs of pulling off another upset were quickly thwarted by Villanova.

"I think we hit a wall," Waters said. "I thought we were defending pretty well in the first half, and I just think there was nothing left."

The Wildcats went on a 29-12 run, with seven points by Sheridan and six by Mike Nardi, to go up 64-46 on Shane Clark's free throw with 6:56 left.

The Wildcats cruised the rest of the way for their 14th win in 15 games. They outscored Rutgers 53-22 in the second half.

"Offensively, in the first half, I thought we played all right," Wright said. "Also, we just couldn't control Quincy. Second half, I thought we spread the ball out pretty well."

Douby single-handedly kept Rutgers in it in the first half, going 9-of-14 from the field, including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers. He was two shy of tying the tournament record for points in a half, set by Connecticut's Donyell Marshall in 1994 and Providence's Billy Donovan in 1987 - both against St. John's.

"Quincy was fabulous in the first half," Waters said. "He kept us in there."

Villanova clamped down defensively on Douby in the second half, allowing the star guard two more field goals. Douby finished 11-of-21, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range.

"They did a better job in the second half double-teaming me, triple-teaming me, trying to get the ball out of my hands," Douby said.

Rutgers led by as many as six, 19-13 on Douby's 3-pointer with 10:13 left in the first half. But Nardi quickly erased the deficit with consecutive 3-pointers to tie it.

The lead changed hands three times in the closing minutes of the half, with the Wildcats getting the lead up to as many as seven points twice. Douby cut the deficit to one by scoring the last six points of the period, making it 34-33 at halftime.

Rutgers, which had won three straight, put a scare into the Wildcats last time the teams played before falling 84-78 in overtime on Jan. 11.

This time, though, the Scarlet Knights were without starting forward J.R. Inman, who broke his right leg on Feb. 5, and forward Adrian Hill, who got a lot of playing time as a backup but was sidelined for the year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Feb. 2.

"You know, I thought we were right in there for a while," Rutgers guard Anthony Farmer said. "It just started slipping away from us."