PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia -- The last thing top-ranked Connecticut expected last night against No. 4 Villanova was to be undone by a big man.
The Huskies have the nation's deepest front line, one that features 6-foot-9 Rudy Gay at small forward. The undersized Wildcats rely on their guard play, but it was unheralded junior forward Will Sheridan who put Villanova over the hump in a monumental 69-64 Big East Conference bash at the Wachovia Center.
"They [his guards] want Will to do it," coach Jay Wright said. "We've been working on this. I'm happy ... it happened tonight."
Villanova (20-2, 10-1) took sole possession of first place in the Big East. The most high-powered game any league has produced this season was watched by the largest crowd, 20,859, ever for a college basketball game in Pennsylvania.
There may not be that many in Bear, Sheridan's hometown in northern Delaware. His job is to defend, rebound and set screens. Sheridan came in averaging 4.5 points but matched his career high with 13, including eight in a key stretch of the second half that lasted just under four minutes.
Kyle Lowry, who had 18 points, got the Wildcats going with 16 in the first half. UConn scored the first 13 of the second to take a 45-33 lead, but Allan Ray countered with four three-pointers during a frantic 17-2 run that put Villanova on top 50-47. It never trailed again.
With Jim Calhoun ordering his center to remain in the lane and stop Lowry's drives, Sheridan roamed freely. He had a tip-in, a pair of mid-range jumpers and then drove baseline past Hilton Armstrong for a dunk and 61-56 lead with 5:35 left.
"Everybody doubles our guards," Sheridan said. "Why wouldn't you? They were backing off [me]. I had good looks. We're resilient; we never stop."
Connecticut (22-2, 9-2) got 19 points from Gay, who made three of four three-pointers, but the Archbishop Spalding grad set the tone at the free-throw line, where the Huskies came up small. He missed a pair with 4:52 left. Then Josh Boone and Jeff Adrien were off on the front end in the bonus.
The Huskies had a chance to tie at the end, but point guard Marcus Williams dribbled into a Rashad Anderson screen and lost the ball to Ray.
"I thought it was blocking below the waist," said Calhoun, who thought the officials' laissez-faire stance on the perimeter didn't let his team get into its halfcourt offense.
The contrast in personnel had Gay guarding the 6-2 Ray and Randy Foye, who's 6-4. Ray led all scorers with 25. Sheridan had 10 rebounds, nearly a third of his team's total. Boone (South Carroll) played an ineffective 17 minutes.
It was Villanova's first win over a top-ranked team since Feb. 18, 1995, when it made quick work of UConn's first stop atop the polls with a 23-point romp in Storrs. The two play there on Feb. 26.