PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ed Cooley opened the door to the Providence locker room and was met by a crush of Friars yelling, hugging and twirling jerseys in the air toward their coach. When someone yelled out for a dance, Cooley obliged, raising the roof as the Friars encircled him and hollered, "Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!" to the beat of the music.
The Friars are dancing like a team determined to keep the party going into March, and a 5 for 5 month against ranked teams just might get them into the NCAA Tournament.
"We're playing for our lives," Cooley said, "and we're as desperate as anybody could imagine."
Luwane Pipkins scored 27 points to lead Providence to its fifth win over a Top 25 team this month, holding off No. 12 Villanova 58-54 on Saturday.
The Friars (17-12, 10-6 Big East) boosted their NCAA Tournament resume with a win in Philly where they led for the balance of the game. Providence already knocked off Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall and Marquette during their ranked-win streak in February. The Friars won their fourth straight game overall and have put behind a disastrous start to the season -- which included losses to Long Beach State and College of Charleston - to aid their tournament chances.
"We had a few bad losses early on in the year and we had to redeem ourselves," Pipkins said.
The Wildcats (22-7, 11-5) played their worst game of the season and were never really in it, missing 3-pointer after 3-pointer to shoot themselves out of a chance at a victory.
The Wildcats missed 21 of 24 3s when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl hit one that brought the Wildcats to 46-44 with 3:51 left and sent the crowd into a frenzy. The Friars hung tight, and overcame Nate Watson's fifth foul, to keep the lead. Villanova coach Jay Wright twirled around and covered his face when Justin Moore was whistled for a foul, but Maliek White missed two free throws and Robinson-Earl dunked on the other end to keep it a two-point deficit.
Pipkins buried a jumper to again stretch the lead and Cooley's team now has the most wins over ranked teams since the 1986-87 and 1990-91 teams also had five.
"We're just trying to win as many games as we can to be in that conversation to be an at-large team if we're not fortunate enough to win the Big East Tournament," Cooley said.
NCAA Tournament bracket master Joe Lunardi did have Providence as one of his "last four in" teams in his latest predicted field. Wright, winner of two national championships, certainly saw enough to convince him the Friars are tourney bound.
"I hope that gets them in," Wright said.
The Friars only had to play average basketball to take a 30-18 lead into halftime. Pipkins hit three 3s and Providence shot 44 percent overall from the floor. The Friars also outscored Villanova 16-3 over the final 8 minutes.
"Coach Cooley trusts me a lot more now," Pipkins said. "I'm just trying to win games and be the guy he brought me here to be."
Villanova, though, was just flat-out awful. The Wildcats missed 12 of 14 3s, made five turnovers and silenced an already lazy Saturday afternoon crowd at the home of the 76ers. Villanova even missed seven of nine from the free-throw line, an off half for a team shooting 77 percent overall.
Collin Gillespie (15.5 ppg) was the biggest offender, missing five of six shots (and both 3-point attempts) as he started and played 19 minutes after suffering a deep right thigh bruise against St. John's. He winced midway through the second half when he crashed to the court to try and grab a loose rebound. It was more bad news on the next possession when leading scorer Saddiq Bey picked up his fourth foul with the Wildcats down 10. Bey fouled out at 6:51 of the second half and Nova down nine.
The lid seemed closed on both rims -- the Friars at one point missed seven straight shots and 12 of 15 overall in the second half and still led by 10. Providence held Villanova to its second-lowest point total of the season.
"They were tougher and made more intelligent plays down the stretch," Wright said.
Providence was on the NCAA Tournament bubble and needed a road win to put themselves in at least First Four contention.
Villanova needs to shake this one off before a big one against Seton Hall and then the Big East Tournament.
INTO THE FRIAR
The Friars are the fifth team to ever beat five ranked teams in a single month, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Providence hosts Xavier on Wednesday.
Villanova plays Wednesday at No. 13 Seton Hall in one of the biggest Big East games of the season.
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