March 11, 2004
By HAL BOCK
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Providence's late-season swoon is starting to get serious.
The Friars, once No. 12 in the nation, dropped to No. 20 in the rankings following home losses to Pittsburgh and Boston College at the end of the season. They complicated things even more Thursday night by losing 69-66 to Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
Randy Foye led a Villanova spurt of 11 straight points down the stretch that pushed the Wildcats past the struggling Friars. Villanova (16-15) became eligible for at least an NIT bid and next faces Connecticut in Friday night's semifinals. UConn, ranked No. 9 and seeded No. 2 in the Big East, defeated Notre Dame 66-58 in Thursday night's first game.
Providence (20-8) goes home with a week to straighten things out before the NCAA tournament.
"We just never got comfortable on offense and then we let them get comfortable," coach Tim Welsh said. "They had dunks and layups on five or six straight possessions. You can't give up 61 percent in a half and expect to win.
"Defense has been our staple. The last three games, it's let us down. That high percentage is really disturbing. We had a soft interior defense. It's hard to understand. We've got to get better. We've got a week to get better."
Welsh knew Villanova would be trouble following its last-second win over Seton Hall.
"From the get-go, I could see Villanova had a hop in their step," he said. "Sometimes one win can get you over the edge in confidence."
Foye, who scored the winning basket against Seton Hall the night before, ignited Villanova with five straight points after Donnie McGrath's 3-pointer had given Providence (20-8) a 58-54 lead with 3:54 to play. Foye responded with a 3-pointer and another basket to put Villanova back on top 59-58.
Then Curtis Sumpter scored his first basket of the game and Mike Nardi followed with another 3-pointer before Foye completed the run with a free throw.
Now Providence was down 65-58 and it was too late for the Friars to recover. Villanova became the first team to come into the Big East tournament with a losing record and win two games..
"We came here with two goals," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We wanted to win two games so we could play in the NIT at least, and to keep playing. This team likes to play."