TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Seventh-ranked Villanova tuned up for a Top 25 showdown against Cincinnati with a dazzling long-range shooting performance by Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek.
Stokes scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half and teamed with Cheek to go 9 for 9 from 3-point range in an 83-71 victory over South Florida on Thursday night.
Cheek had 17 points and Maalik Wayns added 16 to help the Wildcats (13-1, 2-0 Big East) win for the eighth straight time since losing to Tennessee in the final of the NIT Season Tip-off at Madison Square Garden.
Next up is a home date Sunday against No. 24 Cincinnati (15-0), which remained unbeaten with a lopsided win over Xavier.
``That's the way it is in the Big East,' Villanova coach Jay Wright said, adding that it doesn't get any easier for the Wildcats with tough games following against Louisville, Maryland, Connecticut and Syracuse over the next couple of weeks.
``But you've got a team coming in that knows how to win. And they're expecting to come in and win,' Wright said. ``We know it's going to be a battle.'
Stokes went 6 of 8 from the field, 5 for 5 on 3-point attempts. Cheek made all four of his 3-point attempts and was 6 for 6 overall.
``I always think every shot I take is going to go in. My teammates feel the same way. ... They told me they were going to get me the ball, and they did a great job of that,' said Stokes, who delivered a big second-half performance for the second straight game.
The 6-foot-5 senior scored 21 points in the second half to help Villanova overcome a slow start against Rutgers in the Wildcats' conference opener.
``I'm glad we've got these guys,' Wright said, flanked by Stokes and Cheek. ``This is our go-to guy (Stokes), our leader in every way, and this his is protege' right here. To have these two together is really nice.'
Limited to three points while only taking two shots in the opening half, Stokes made a pair of 3-pointers during a 9-0 spurt that put Villanova in control for good. Cheek finished the burst with a 3-pointer that put the Wildcats up 63-51 with 8 minutes to go.
``Not too many people do that when they're by themselves in the gym,' USF coach Stan Heath said of the shooting display. ``They seem to do it effortlessly.'
The closest USF (6-10, 0-3) got down the stretch was seven points. Augustus Gilchrist led the Bulls with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Shaun Noriega scored 13 points and Hugh Robertson had 11 for USF, which stayed close early by outscoring the Wildcats 12-1 from the foul line in the first 16 minutes of the game.
Ron Anderson's rebound dunk gave the Bulls their last lead of the night, 28-27, before Villanova closed the half with an 8-2 spurt that Fisher finished with a steal and layup for a 35-30 advantage.
Coming off a 66-61 overtime loss at Connecticut, USF fell to 11-86 against ranked opponents, including a 3-17 mark in four seasons under Heath. The Bulls led the Huskies with less than 3 minutes to go in regulation, but have had difficulty closing out games all season.
The Bulls have led in the second half of nine of their 10 losses, only to fade because of mistakes and poor shooting.
Villanova didn't give them a chance to falter late this time.
When USF closed to 54-51 on Noriega's four-point play, Stokes and Cheek took charge and delivered the trio of 3-pointers that carried the Wildcats to their largest lead of the night.
I don't think it was an effort situation. I just thought that was a very good basketball team that exploited some different areas,' Heath said.
``We had some positives, but I think that was the best team we've played against. I can see why they're seventh in the country.'
The Associated Press News Service
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