No. 7 Villanova 74, South Florida 49
Scottie Reynolds walked out with his parents to his usual ovation. He left to an even louder one from the appreciative Villanova fans, chanting his name as he hugged his coach and each of his grateful teammates.
This was only the campus finale for Reynolds.
He's looking for a few more big acts to the closing weeks of his career.
Reynolds dusted off last season's regional final highlight video to motivate the Wildcats, then scored 21 points to lead No. 7 Villanova to a 74-49 win over South Florida on Wednesday night.
``We just saw the intensity, we saw how together that team was,'' Reynolds said. ``We're trying to duplicate that energy, that pride. We're not going to be the same team, but we have that same intensity, that same pride.''
Antonio Pena scored 14 points and Corey Stokes added 11 to help the Wildcats (23-4, 12-3 Big East) snap their first two-game losing streak in two years. The Wildcats had sunk from No. 2 in The AP poll and from atop the conference standings after dropping games to Connecticut and Pittsburgh.
Back on track, Villanova takes a needed confidence boost into Saturday's big showdown with Big East-leading and fourth-ranked Syracuse.
Reynolds and fellow senior Reggie Redding called a team meeting last night to set the Wildcats straight.
``I told them it needed to be done,'' coach Jay Wright said. ``I told them we've talked enough. They've been doing it all year, so it's not been anything different.''
The Wildcats watched video of their 78-76 victory over Pittsburgh in the regional final - won on Reynolds' half-court dash for a last-second basket that sent them to their first Final Four since 1985.
It must have worked.
The Wildcats were only briefly threatened after opening the game on an 8-0 burst. They also honored a senior class that finished with a 37-game winning streak at their on-campus arena, the Pavilion.
Dominique Jones scored 12 for the Bulls (16-11, 6-9) and Mike Mercer had 11. USF is still chasing its best record since it won 19 games and reached the NIT in 2001-02.
There was little the Bulls could do to stop Villanova at home. Reynolds highlighted the senior class festivities and heard the loudest ovation of the night. Billed as having ``delivered one of the most extraordinary careers in Villanova history,'' the guard who led them to the Final Four last season scored nine points in the first half for an early lead.
Stokes hit 3s on consecutive possessions to send the Wildcats into the break with a nine-point lead. It would have been double digits had Anthony Crater not hit a buzzer-beating 3 going into the break.
The 3 incensed Wright, barking at his team as they hustled into the locker room.
The Wildcats couldn't pull away.
Jones hit a pair of 3s that sliced the lead to six and suddenly the Bulls had visions of dealing Villanova its third straight loss.
The Wildcats did what they usually do - always at home: take over.
``It was a point of the game where you step up and say, 'Hey, we're going to take over this or we're going to let it slip away,''' Reynolds said. ``We stepped up to the challenge.''
Did they ever.
Stokes converted a three-point play and Reynolds scored to make it 53-41. Corey Fisher and Dominic Cheek each stepped in front of passes for steals and easy baskets - including a rattling one-handed jam from Cheek - that made it 56-41.
Threat over. Losing streak gone.
``It seemed like they shifted into another gear,'' USF coach Stan Heath said. ``They kept hitting, they kept swinging and we just didn't have a response.''
The two-game skid put a dent in Villanova's bid to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. There's still time for the Wildcats to get back in contention for one of the top seeds. Winning at Syracuse would be a start. The game is officially a sellout and will break the Orange's NCAA record for the largest on-campus crowd to see a college basketball game - about 35,000.
Villanova turned this one into a rout, closing on a 26-8 run over the final 9:01. Reynolds checked out for good with 1:14 left and the Wildcats ahead 74-47. He hugged Wright, then took turns going down the bench hugging his teammates and staff. The crowd bellowed ``Scottie Reynolds!'' in appreciation of the third-leading scorer in team history.
Villanova shot 54 percent in the second half and Reynolds was 7 of 14 from the floor overall.
``I feel like we're playing good basketball again,'' Wright said.