SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -Jim Boeheim didn't want to talk about rankings. He just wanted to briefly bask in a scintillating victory by his Syracuse Orange and then move on.
Rick Jackson scored 19 points and Arinze Onuaku had 17 as the two big men dominated inside, helping the No. 4 Orange rout No. 7 Villanova 95-77 on Saturday night before an NCAA on-campus record crowd of 34,616.
On a day when the top two teams in the nation - Kansas and Kentucky - both lost, the victory could move the Orange to No. 1 for the first time since 1989-90.
Pretty heady stuff for a team that entered the season off everybody's radar.
``It doesn't matter where you're ranked in our game, it really doesn't,' Boeheim said. ``This team has not thought about rankings all year. I told them they needed a short celebration. I'm just trying to get the players focused on the next game. The only thing anybody will remember is the (NCAA) tournament, but I hope the fans enjoyed this team.'
They did, repeatedly shaking the Carrier Dome with each basket as Syracuse (27-2, 14-2) improved to 7-0 against ranked teams and clinched at least a tie for the Big East title with two games left in the regular season. The Orange also own the tiebreaker because of the victory over the Wildcats (23-5, 12-4), who have lost three of four.
``They're so improved, so balanced in every phase of the game,' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ``They're a great team. I thought we came ready to play. We jumped on them, but once they got it going they had a response to everything.'
With Syracuse stars from the past back for a reunion of sorts - Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Billy Owens and Rafael Addison among them - and the fans waving orange towels donated by the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation, the Orange began to assume command late in the first half and took control in the second.
Syracuse increased a 10-point halftime lead to a bulging 72-56 as the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Onuaku converted consecutive follows and the 6-9 Jackson slammed home a feed from Andy Rautins.
``We just got the ball to the right people,' Boeheim said. ``It was just a tremendous effort on both ends of the floor.'
If anybody didn't think it was Syracuse's night, they had to be convinced when Onuaku, one of the poorest free throw shooters in the nation, converted a three-point play for a 16-point lead with 8:54 left.
``I think I was kind of the spark just to give us a little cushion,' said Onuaku, who combined with Jackson to hit 16 of 25 shots. ``We kind of took it from there.'
``When Arinze's like that, we're probably the best team in the country,' Rautins said. ``With those guys playing well, we're extremely tough to beat.'
Syracuse limited the Wildcats to 8 of 28 (28.6 percent) on 3-pointers and committed only one turnover in the second half. The Orange, who entered the game averaging 15 turnovers, also allowed only two fast-break points and its bench outscored Villanova's 32-21.
Syracuse reserves Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine each scored 16 points, Wes Johnson had 14 and Rautins finished with 12 points and eight assists.
Scottie Reynolds led Villanova with 16 points, Corey Fisher had 14, Antonio Pena 13 and freshman Mouphtaou Yarou a season-high 13.
Rautins, who missed his first three 3-point attempts, opened the second half with a 3 from the wing and Johnson followed with another that countered a three-point play by Fisher.
Jackson hit a hook in the lane and converted a layup off the glass off a feed from Rautins to give Syracuse a 56-48 edge at 16:38.
``'Nova's a team that's going to live and die by the 3,' Jackson said. ``Against a team that shoots as many 3s, you don't want to get into a shooting contest.'
After a follow by Yarou, Rautins drained another 3, this one from the top of the key, and after Reynolds missed a wide-open 3 from the left corner, Onuaku converted two follows off missed 3s by Rautins to boost the lead to 65-52 with 12:03 left.
The Wildcats didn't seem fazed by the raucous crowd. Reynolds hit a pair of open 3s and a three-point-play by Fisher helped stake 'Nova to an early lead. A 3 from the top of the key by Corey Stokes gave Villanova a 23-14 edge midway through the first half.
But the Syracuse zone gradually became more aggressive and the openings disappeared. 'Nova missed six straight 3-pointers and scored only one basket in a span of nearly 6 minutes.
Villanova entered the game averaging 25 points a game from its bench, but Jardine and Joseph combined for 21 points in the first half alone and keyed the comeback.
Five straight points by Jardine and a pair of free throws by Johnson gave Syracuse a 46-36 halftime lead.
``They did a great job of posting up, playing off of one another, offensive rebounding,' Reynolds said. ``We tried to stay together, not let it (the crowd) affect us. I don't think it had anything to do with the outcome.'
The Associated Press News Service
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