for this game

Villanova holds off South Florida in physical battle

Jan 24, 2009 - 9:52 PM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Dante Cunningham scored 14 points despite being limited to 19 minutes due to foul trouble as 21st-ranked Villanova held off South Florida, 70-61, Saturday in a foul-plagued Big East Conference contest.

The Wildcats' leading scorer this season, Cunningham spent the final 12 minutes of the first half and nine minutes of the second half on the bench.

"We've been struggling with really playing hard defense consistently," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Dante is trying to be a leader and show the guys how to do it. We definitely need him on the floor but I do admire what he's doing, trying to set an example."

The teams combined for 48 fouls in a physical battle that was close until the final minute. The Wildcats (15-4, 3-3 Big East) scored their last nine points from the line in the final 73 seconds.

Villanova shot only 62 percent from the line - 21-of-34 - but South Florida was worse, hitting just 55 percent of its free throws (16-of-29).

The Wildcats also dominated on the boards with a 41-26 rebounding edge, led by Dwayne Anderson, who pulled down 10.

Even with Cunningham playing limited minutes, Villanova was able to wear down South Florida with its superior depth. The Wildcats outscored the Bulls 25-1 off the bench and held South Florida to 28 percent shooting in the second half.

South Florida USF played without top reserve Mobolaji Ajayi, who is out for the rest of the season after partially tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Thursday's practice on Thursday.

Cunningham scored six quick points after intermission as the Wildcats broke from a 32-32 tie to open a 41-34 lead on his two free throws with 17:58 to play.

South Florida (7-12, 2-5) battled back, taking its only lead of the second half at 48-47 on a free throw by Dominique Jones.

Reggie Redding answered with a layup, igniting a 9-2 run for the Wildcats, who grabbed a 57-51 lead on two free throws by Corey Strokes with 5:05 left.

The Bulls closed within 60-58 on Augustus Gilchrist's free throw with 1:34 remaining. Gilchrist paced South Florida with 18 points, but made only 1-of-4 foul shots on consecutive trips to the line with a chance to pull the Bulls even.

Redding contributed 11 points and Corey Fisher chipped in with 10 for Villanova, which rebounded from Wednesday's 89-83 loss at No. 3 Connecticut.

Chris Howard chipped in with 15 points for South Florida and Jones added 11 before fouling out with 5:28 remaining.