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'Nova moves forward

Big East team sets up match with BC

Villanova head basketball coach Jay Wright brings his team and his courtside intensity to the Sweet 16.
Villanova head basketball coach Jay Wright brings his team and his courtside intensity to the Sweet 16. (AP Photo)

PHILADELPHIA -- An Atlantic Coast Conference-Big East challenge is all set for Minneapolis Friday.

It's back to the future for the Villanova Wildcats, who moved into the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament against . . . Boston College.

The dream match between the old Big East rivals became a reality yesterday at the Wachovia Center as coach Jay Wright's Wildcats outlasted coach Lute Olson's Arizona Wildcats, 82-78, in a Minneapolis Regional second-round game in front of what was basically a Villanova home crowd of 20,050.

BC-Villanova apparently has gotten the attention of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, whose squad beat Kentucky earlier yesterday at the Wachovia Center. Before the Villanova-Arizona game, Calhoun grabbed Villanova guard Allan Ray and shook him, saying, ''Win, win, win."

Ray said: ''I've never seen an opposing coach root for another team like that."

Villanova took an early lead, never trailed, and had to rely on Ray's foul shooting in the final seconds to preserve the victory, which sent Villanova to its second consecutive regional semifinal.

''A fun college basketball game," said Wright. ''[Arizona] is really good. They had all the answers."

Well, most of them. Arizona, which closed its up-and-down season with a 20-13 record, didn't know how to handle Villanova guard Randy Foye in the first half.

Foye scored 20 of his 24 points in the first half and was the reason Villanova held a 42-35 lead at intermission.

Villanova never relinquished the lead in the second half despite Arizona's attempts to extend its season one more game.

Arizona cut Villanova's lead to 2 with 1:54 left when guard Hassan Adams (20 points) made a pair of foul shots, which cut the deficit to 76-74.

Adams was one of three Arizona players who caused Villanova problems the entire game. Forward Marcus Williams led Arizona with 24 points and Mustafa Shakur added 21 points.

But Villanova, as it has done through most of this magical season, had answers in Foye, Ray (25 points), and center Will Sheridan (16 points).

''They were making the runs," said Ray. ''Every time we had a run, they had an answer for it. They remind me of us. They kept fighting."

But the hometown nature of the crowd on the ''neutral" site helped. ''Today, when we needed a stop, you heard the crowd," said Foye.

Ray, Sheridan, and Foye all contributed down the stretch, especially Ray, who battled back from an eye injury suffered March 11 in the Big East tournament and scored 4 of his points on foul shots in the final 14.2 seconds.

Ray said his teammates were aware of the mission of both Big East No. 1 seeds (UConn, Villanova).

''[UConn] did what it had to do and we did what we had to do," said Ray.

'Nova and UConn will head in different directions for this weekend's games. UConn takes on the University of Washington in the Washington Regional, which also includes Cinderella teams George Mason and Wichita State.

Villanova also will have Big East partner Georgetown in Minneapolis for company, along with Florida.

When Ray was asked about BC, he said, ''I don't want to talk about BC right now.

''I want to enjoy this."

And if BC knocks off Villanova, it could start a series of Big East reunions with Georgetown and possibly UConn in the Final Four.

But that is too far in the future to consider. For now, BC and Villanova is more than enough.

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