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Villanova shakes off cobwebs to rout Cincinnati

Feb 1, 2009 - 10:18 PM VILLANOVA, Pennsylvania (Ticker) -- Dante Cunningham was the only Villanova player who seemed ready for Sunday's early tip-off against Cincinnati.

Cunningham scored Villanova's only six points in the first eight minutes and finished with 21 as the 21st-ranked Wildcats overcame a sluggish start to pull away for a 71-50 victory over Cincinnati.

After beating No. 3 Pittsburgh, 67-57, on Wednesday in the final college basketball game at the Spectrum, Villanova (16-4, 5-3 Big East) returned to its campus facility, the Pavilion, where the Wildcats have won 25 straight.

After a seesaw first half that featured 12 lead changes and ended with Villanova nursing a 30-29 edge, the Wildcats never trailed in the second. They eventually wore down the Bearcats (14-8, 4-5) with their suffocating defense.

Villanova broke it open during a 12-0 spurt in which it held Cincinnati scoreless for more than six minutes. The final score represented the Wildcats' biggest advantage.

Villanova held Cincinnati to just 18 percent shooting in the second half, when the Bearcats made just six of their 33 shots. Overall, Cincinnati shot under 29 percent (17-of-59).

"I think Cincinnati is playing as well as anybody in the league right now," Villanova coach Jay Wright told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "They gave us big problems in the first half. They were very well-prepared. For us to come out and defend in the second half like that was great."

Expect for Cunningham, however, both teams began Sunday's noon contest as if they were still sleeping.

At the first television timeout, the Wildcats only led 2-0 as the teams combined for seven early turnovers and 1-for-9 shooting from the field. At the second timeout, the contest was tied, 8-8.

The quality of play eventually picked up, and Cincinnati grabbed its biggest lead, 26-19, on Yancy Gates' three-point play with 5:09 left in the first half.

Villanova responded with a 9-0 spurt and took a lead into the break on Scottie Reynolds' driving layup with three seconds remaining.

"We controlled the first half," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "But (we) lost a seven-point lead at the end of the half. That's what really hurt us. You've got to find a way to finish off the half. You've got to get to the locker room with the lead."

Alvin Mitchell contributed 15 points for Cincinnati, which was outscored, 41-21, in the second half.

Villanova won going away despite shooting only 2-of-12 from behind the arc. Reynolds, the Wildcats' leading scorer, was held to 11 points on 2-of-8 from the field.

Corey Fisher also scored 11 points off the bench for Villanova, which has won three straight since an 89-83 loss at Connecticut.