CINCINNATI (AP)—Every eye-opening win is so sweet for Cincinnati.
A program still digging out from the mess of Bob Huggins’ ouster had a breakthrough game on Saturday night, rallying for a 69-66 victory over No. 24 Villanova that proved the Bearcats are no longer pushovers.
Cincinnati (8-8, 3-1 Big East) has already eclipsed its league win total from last season, when the Bearcats finished last at 2-14. The latest one came against a team that drubbed them by 16 a year ago.
“We’re looking to give a payback to every team that beat us last year,” guard Deonta Vaughn said, “no ifs, ands or buts.”
This one they snatched away.
Rashad Bishop made a 3-pointer with 22 seconds to play—the freshman forward’s only basket of the game—after the Wildcats (11-3, 1-2) failed to hold a lead in the final minute. Scottie Reynolds scored a season-high 32 points for Villanova, but had a shot blocked with 27 seconds left and the Wildcats up by one.
Bishop, who was 0-for-3 at that point, then made one from the right wing.
“That’s what coach said to do—push the ball, we’re not going to call time out,” said Vaughn, who had 25 points and was the focal point of Villanova’s defense on the pivotal play. “He had faith we were going to get an open shot.
“We practice that every day. Rashad hadn’t scored all game. It usually turns out that the person who doesn’t score makes the big bucket for the team.”
When Villanova’s Corey Fisher missed the front end of a one-and-one with 6 seconds left, Cincinnati got the rebound. John Williamson made one of two free throws, and Reynolds missed a 3-point shot with two players on him at the buzzer.
“I got a good one,” said Reynolds, who stuffed the top of his jersey in his mouth after missing. “I knew they weren’t going to foul. I thought it was in. It just hit the back of the rim.”
Williamson had his second double-double of the season, getting 13 points and 11 rebounds. Cincinnati dominated the boards 38-28, the second straight game in which Villanova has been outrebounded by double-digits.
Reynolds, a point guard who was the Big East’s rookie of the year last season, was Villanova’s offense at the outset. He scored the Wildcats’ first 12 points off a series of spin moves and drives to the basket.
After one move, Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson—sitting courtside as usual— yelled to the refs: “He’s carrying the ball just like Earl Monroe,” a reference to the former Baltimore Bullets guard known for his 360-degree spin move.
Reynolds had scored only 15 points in the last two games combined, well below his norm.
“He was great,” coach Jay Wright said. “He was a leader. You saw Scottie Reynolds tonight. It was good to have him back, but we have to be a team. We have seven offensive rebounds for the game when they’re in a zone (defense). We should get more rebounds.”
Vaughn did his best to keep up, scoring 13 in a back-and-forth first half that featured five lead changes and neither team ahead by more than six. The Bearcats kept it close by dominating the boards—Williamson had 10 rebounds in the first half alone, when Villanova failed to get even one offensive rebound.
The Bearcats have turned into a solid rebounding team lately. They held Syracuse without a rebound for an 8-minute span during their 74-66 win on Wednesday night.
Reynolds and Vaughn kept up their game of “top this” at the start of the second half. Vaughn’s fastbreak layup put Cincinnati up 41-40, its first lead in 11 minutes.
That was the first of seven lead changes in the half. Cincinnati pulled ahead 55-50—its biggest lead since the opening minutes—when Vaughn stripped Fisher and drove for a layup.
Reynolds responded with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in a 7-0 run that set up the frantic finish.
“They hit some backbreaking shots,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We could have panicked and folded up. My players responded to everything they did today.”
Cincinnati’s take-it-up-strong approach paid off in free throws. The Bearcats went 17-of-30 from the line, while Villanova was 8-of-15.