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Villanova takes big early lead and cruises to beat Siena in NCAA Tournament second-round game in Tampa

TAMPA — Jay Wright's biggest fear was falling behind early.

The Villanova coach had seen film of what Siena does when it gets an early lead, controlling the tempo and avoiding costly turnovers.

So he knew that the biggest mistake the Wildcats could make Sunday afternoon was to let Siena lead, then dictate.

Guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes took care of that concern.

The sophomore and the freshman combined for 31 of Villanova's 42 first-half points to lead the No.  12 seed to an 84-72 win over the No.  13-seeded Saints in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Villanova (22-12) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years but the first since 2006, the year it went to the Elite Eight and lost to eventual national champion Florida.

"We were scared to death to get behind them early because we weren't going to be able to press them and turn them over and take them out of what they do," Wright said. "That was important."

Reynolds apparently heeded that warning. He had a game-high 25 points and a career-high eight rebounds.

"I just wanted to go out there, be aggressive and get us off to a good start," he said.

It worked. The shots that fell seemingly with ease against No.  4 seed Vanderbilt on Friday didn't fall at all Sunday for Siena (23-11). Villanova led 19-5 before the midway point of the first half as the Saints struggled offensively: Siena shot 8-of-29 from the field and 3-of-12 from 3-point range, was outscored 20-8 in the paint and was 13-of-20 from the free-throw line in the first half.

"This game was a struggle for us from the start," coach Fran McCaffery said. "I think the mistake we made was we tried quick-shooting the ball a little bit. But I thought we really battled."

Despite the poor offensive showing, Siena trailed by just 10 at the half. Then came Wright's second concern: holding the lead.

"Once you get the lead, it's so hard to keep playing every possession and not take a break," he said. "It's the hardest thing to do in sports, I think. It's harder than coming back."

Trailing by as many as 16 with 16:25 remaining, Siena pulled within 10 several times and finally nine with 6:28. But Villanova responded with a run of its own.

"We thought we were going to cut into the lead," said junior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, who had 17 points. "But it seemed like every time we started to make a run, one of their better players made a big shot. I think we started getting tired from it."

Wright, who has no seniors, credited his junior class, led by center Dante Cunningham, who had 14 second-half points and six rebounds. Stokes, the freshman, finished with career highs in points (20) and field goals made (eight).

"My main focus coming into this game was to shut down their guards," Stokes said. "Coach talked to me before the game. He just told me to focus on defense. He told me my shots would come. Then when I got the ball when Scottie was in trouble, I just came out aggressive, drove the ball a lot more this game, and it worked out well for me."

And for Villanova.

No. 12 Nova 84

No. 13 Siena 72

Villanova takes big early lead and cruises to beat Siena in NCAA Tournament second-round game in Tampa 03/23/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 11:20pm]
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