No. 7 Villanova knocks off Louisville
Corey Stokes did damage from 3-point range, Mouphtaou Yarou grabbed big rebounds inside and Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher were pests defensively and scooted to the basket for key points.
Villanova is rolling again, confident it has all the pieces outside - and inside - to contend in the Big East.
Stokes scored 23 points and Yarou had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead the seventh-ranked Wildcats to their 10th straight win, 88-74 over No. 18 Louisville on Wednesday night.
Fisher scored 17 points and Wayns had 15 for the Wildcats, who beat their second straight Top 25 team. The Wildcats (15-1, 4-0 Big East) defeated then-No. 24 Cincinnati on Sunday and haven't lost since Nov. 26.
The Wildcats resisted turning the game into a complete 3-point exhibition after Louisville (13-3, 2-1) was sharp early and used contributions from all the starters in a game-changing spurt to pull away.
Antonio Pena was the only Wildcats starter not in double figures but had eight points.
''We did have a balance and that was unusual for us,'' coach Jay Wright said.
Wright has churned out plenty of backcourt pros, but the frontcourt has mostly been a weak link. Yarou and Pena give the Wildcats reason to believe the inside game can be a factor in a potential deep March run.
All the top players chipped in during a 12-2 run that put the game away late in the second half. Yarou, rounding into one of the top frontcourt players in Wright's 10 seasons, started the run with a three-point play. The speedy Wayns blew down the lane for a layup, then swiped the ball at halfcourt. He lost control as he neared the bucket, but Fisher was there to recover and score the bucket.
''They're a team of great runs,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
There wasn't a bad effort from any of the Villanova starters and they played about as complete a game as they have all season.
Led by Yarou, the Wildcats dominated the boards (41-25) and from the free-throw line (18 of 23 to 6 of 7).
''Mouph was just awesome,'' Wright said.
Wright has said this season his team isn't as good as its ranking - but it might be there now.
''I think we beat a very, very good team that's worthy of their ranking, so I'm starting to feel like we're starting to earn it,'' Wright said.
Stokes missed practice for two days after pulling his left hamstring against the Bearcats but hardly looked bothered camped out from beyond the arc.
It's where the Cardinals also felt at home - they made 12 of 25 3s.
Preston Knowles scored 24 points, Chris Smith scored 18 points and Peyton Siva had 14.
The Cardinals don't want to see a Philadelphia team again after losing at home to Drexel in December.
''It's a great lesson for an inexperienced team tonight,'' Pitino said. ''It's a great lesson on how to play 40 minutes on the road.''
The Cardinals entered tops in the Big East, making an average of more than nine 3-pointers per game, and came out shooting from far away.
Smith made all three of his attempts and Knowles hit three in the first half to help the Cardinals shoot 8 for 15 in the first half. They wasted no time going deep, shooting mostly open 3s off one quick pass.
The 3-point spree reached its peak late in the first half. Fisher's 3 tied it at 30, Siva and Knowles went back-to-back for a six-point lead, then 'Nova's James Bell hit only his third 3 of the season to even the score.
Why stop there?
Smith put the Cardinals ahead 39-36 with a 3 making the painted lane seem merely decorative and not an area to score.
Stokes did his best to keep pace, though swapping baskets isn't Villanova's style. He made three of his four 3s in a frenzied, at times sloppy, first 20 minutes and the Wildcats led 42-41 at the break.
''They sliced us in the first half. It was a joke,'' Wright said.
While the Cardinals kept settling for jump shots, the Wildcats were eager to attack the basket and get to the line. That style eventually swung the game toward Villanova.
''We have to get better from this and understand what it's going to take to put together a complete game in this league,'' Knowles said.
Also, Louisville forward Jared Swopshire will have surgery to repair an injured groin and will miss the rest of the season. He averaged 7.5 points and 6.1 rebounds as a sophomore for the Cardinals in 2009-10.