Years from now, it will be remembered that Villanova closed the college basketball phase in the life of the Wachovia Spectrum, but that didn't much matter to the Wildcats and their fans tonight.

The 21st-ranked Wildcats finally picked up the signature victory they were seeking in the meat grinder that is the Big East Conference, putting the defensive clamps on Pittsburgh down the stretch and beating the No. 3 Panthers, 67-57, in the college basketball finale at the Spectrum.

Reggie Redding, in addition to his usual sparkling defense, scored a career-high 18 points, and Dante Cunningham added 15 for the Wildcats, who improved to 16-4 overall and 4-3 in the Big East with their first victory this season over a ranked opponent.

Scottie Reynolds added 10 points for Villanova and touched off a run of seven points that gave the Wildcats the lead for good. He hit a short fadeaway jumper and a three-point basket during the spurt, with the trey giving Nova a 55-48 lead with 5 minutes, 26 seconds to play.

The Panthers (18-2, 6-2) got as close as 55-51 on a free throw by DeJuan Blair with 4:02 to play but scored only six points, including just one field goal, from then on.

The Wildcats answered that short spurt with a baseline jumper from Cunningham and a drive from Redding to take a 59-51 advantage with three minutes left. The Cats struggled from the free-throw line in the second half but hit eight of their last 10, including four by Redding.

Sam Young led the Panthers with 14 points. Brad Wanamaker, a Roman Catholic High graduate, added 13.

Young scored six straight points early in the second half to give Pitt the lead, but Corey Fisher answered with six in a row for Nova to give the Wildcats a 44-41 advantage. The two teams battled and a three-point play by Pitt's Jermaine Dixon with 8:16 left made the score 48-48, the last tie of the night.

The Wildcats battled back from a 10-point deficit in the first half to take a pair of one-point leads, but Pitt scored the last six points of the period to go to the locker room with a 31-26 lead at the break.

Redding led the Wildcats at the half with eight points and five rebounds in a team-high 18 minutes, but Reynolds missed all five of his shots, three from beyond the arc.

The Panthers were paced by Wanamaker, a sophomore. Wanamaker scored nine points, seven of them in three consecutive possessions in 1:32, including a three-point basket that gave the Panthers a 19-9 lead with 9:46 left in the half.

The Wildcats got a break when Blair, the No. 2 rebounder in the Big East, went to the bench after being whistled for his second personal foul with 8:35 remaining in the half.

Blair still managed five rebounds in 10 minutes.

Villanova, which made only one of its first eight shots, finished the half shooting 37.5 percent, while Pitt fired the ball up at a 43.3 percent pace and outrebounded the Cats, 22-13.

The Wildcats came out hot in the second half, outscoring Pitt, 8-2, to grab their third one-point lead. Reynolds needed only 10 seconds to drain his first basket, a three-ball. After two free throws (in four attempts) by Cunningham, Anderson hit a trey to put Nova in front, 34-33, just 21/2 minutes into the period.

The Panthers got off to a 10-2 start, with the Wildcats managing just one field goal in the first 6:16. They later capitalized on the Wanamaker show, which included drives on the baseline and down the lane plus the three-ball, to go up by 10.

'Nova started to find its shooting eye when Corey Stokes knocked down a three-point goal to touch off a 15-4 stretch. The Wildcats took their first lead of the game, 24-23, on Cunningham's dunk with 3:39 left.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.