for this game

Villanueva, Bucks hold off Hawks' late rally

Feb 1, 2009 - 5:10 AM By Dave Cotey PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- The Milwaukee Bucks continue to survive without star guard Michael Redd, and Charlie Villanueva is leading the way.

Villanueva had 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lead the Bucks to a 110-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

It was Villanueva's 11th game with 20 or more points this month. Over his last 10 games - all starts - he is averaging 22.9 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Bucks, who improved to 2-2 without Redd. The sharpshooter is out for the season with an injured knee.

"It was a big game for me," Villanueva said. "I played a lot of minutes in (Friday's) win and I just tried to follow up on that and get my teammates involved. I just have to keep it up and keep playing with the energy I'm playing with."

Ramon Sessions, starting in place of Redd, added 20 points and seven assists, and Richard Jefferson scored 20 points for the Bucks, who improved to 17-2 vs. the Hawks at home since the 1989-99 season.

"The more games I play at the two, the more comfortable I get," Sessions said. "This is my first season ever playing the shooting guard position. I'm just trying to contribute in any way they need me to do."

Mike Bibby scored 24 points and Joe Johnson had 22 with nine assists for the Hawks, losers of four of their last five.

"It's been a carbon copy of the past few games," Johnson said. "When we get down like that on the road, it's tough to get back. We couldn't make stops."

Villanueva did most of his damage in the first half as the Bucks established what would be an insurmountable lead. The former sixth man scored 18 of his points before halftime on 5-of-9 shooting.

"He has the unique ability to score, but if you really want to be that guy, if you really want to be a person (a team) can play through, you look at his numbers tonight," Jefferson said of Villanueva.

"You have to be a guy that if you get the ball 10 times in a row, five or six of them have to be passes to get your other teammates going. That's what the great ones do, the All-Stars. He's raising his game to that level."

But Milwaukee had to hold Atlanta in the fourth, when it got within two at 106-104 with 7.5 seconds left on Josh Smith's putback, but Luke Ridnour hit two free throws less than a second later to clinch it for Milwaukee.

"We got a little shaky in the end," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "I feel like we just really got fatigued, but we were able to hold them off. We made a lot of big plays."

The Bucks built a 49-31 lead in the second quarter on Villanueva's third of three first-half 3-pointers with 5:08 remaining in the half.

"Coach has put a lot of responsibility on me (to) play big minutes and make the most out of it," Villanueva said. "With the injury to Michael Redd, a lot of guys have to step up and I'm one of those guys. It's a challenge, and I have to seize it."

The Hawks answered with a 17-4 run to end the second quarter. Flip Murray, who finished with 18 points, scored all seven of his first-half points off the bench to spark the run.

Atlanta closed within three on Bibby's jumper that made it 64-61 with 8:16 left in the third, but Milwaukee extended its lead to 13 at 87-74 by the end of the quarter.

"It's kind of been somewhat our trend (to start slow)," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "You can't spot a team 18-20 points. It takes too much energy to come back. We didn't answer the bell in the first quarter. We got back in the game, but we just exhausted too much energy early."