TAMPA — Held to three points in the first half against USF on Thursday night, Villanova guard Corey Stokes said that Wildcats coach Jay Wright told him at halftime he had to "be a killer" in the second half.
Stokes had 19 points in the second half, finishing 5-for-5 on 3-pointers as the No. 7 Wildcats went 9-for-12 beyond the arc, holding off USF for an 83-71 win before an announced crowd of 4,510 in the Sun Dome.
"I always think every shot I take is going to go in," said Stokes, who came in shooting 44 percent beyond the arc. "My teammates feel the same way and told me they were going to get me the ball. They did a great job of that."
The 75 percent shooting matched the best ever for Villanova (13-1, 2-0 Big East), another 9-for-12 game against American in 1993.
It wasn't just Stokes — guard Dominic Cheek went 4-for-4 for 17 points off the bench.
"They were shooting the ball exceptionally well," coach Stan Heath said after his team's fifth straight loss. "We've been very, very good all year long defensively. I don't think it was an effort situation. I just think that was a very good basketball team that exploited some different areas. We just didn't have the answers we needed."
USF (6-10, 0-3) led late in the first half, outrebounding Villanova 17-12 and 8-2 on the offensive glass. The Bulls saw momentum slip late in the half, with three turnovers in their final four possessions, what Heath called "bonehead plays" that helped Villanova to a 35-30 lead.
"Those guys were really good up front," Wright said. "First half, I thought their forwards dominated. Second half, I think our perimeter guys dominated.
USF trailed 54-51 with 10:29 left after guard Shaun Noriega converted a four-point play. Villanova answered with 3-pointers on three straight possessions — the first two by Stokes -— for a 12-point lead, and USF wouldn't get closer than seven the rest of the way.
Junior forward Augustus Gilchrist, continuing his strong play of late, had team highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds, the second double double of his USF career and first since January 2009. Noriega, who had totaled five points in USF's previous seven games, got a rare start and scored all of his 13 points in the second half.
Point guard Anthony Crater set a career high with eight assists with one turnover in 34 minutes.
"I don't know if the schedule gets any easier for us," said Heath, whose team hosts Louisville on Sunday. "We have to make sure we don't put our heads down. We keep our spirits up, keep battling and fighting, keep trying to work to get better. It's not going to get better overnight. This is a team that's, I don't want to say rebuilding. We brought in some new guys and we're trying to build our chemistry, come together and learn how to win.
"It's not easy when you're facing the teams we face, but I expect our team to bounce back."