The last time Villanova lost at the Pavilion was Jan. 6, 2007 (73-65, to DePaul). The Wildcats have played there 27 times since then, 12 against Big East opponents.

The 11th-ranked club in the country (24-6, 12-5) will close out its regular season tonight against Providence (18-11, 10-7), which right now might be one of the last teams in the 65-team NCAA Tournament field. Villanova, of course, is merely playing for seeding. In both the Big East tourney, and the Big Dance.

The Wildcats probably will be be a No. 3 or 4 in the latter. But they're probably not thinking about that yet, because coach Jay Wright has taught them well. And focusing on the obstacle at hand has served them the same way.

It's probably one of the reasons they are where they are.

The Wildcats, who are coming off a really good win at Notre Dame following a not-so-nice loss at the Wachovia Center to Georgetown, beat the Friars up there a month ago, 94-91. It was their sixth consecutive win in this series. In that first meeting, they led by 20 early in the second half, but Providence made a bunch of threes and got it down to one with 2 seconds left before Scottie Reynolds' two free throws sealed things; Reynolds scored 31.

Providence hasn't won down here since 2005. That was also at the Pavilion, but it lost there in 2004 (100-74).

Providence could clinch sixth in the Big East standings with a victory, and pretty much lock up a berth in the NCAAs for the first time since 2004, for first-year coach Keno Davis.

The worst the Wildcats can finish is fifth.

But with Marquette (23-7, 12-5) losing at Pittsburgh (27-3, 14-3) last night, the Wildcats can now gain the No. 4 spot with another victory. That would give them a double bye into next Thursday's quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden, where they would likely face Marquette for the third time. The teams split their two games, with each winning at home. And one less game in March can never be a bad thing.

It was something that certainly didn't look all that possible when they started the Big East portion of their schedule 2-3. A win tonight would also mean the Wildcats would finish 5-1 against the three teams (Providence, Marquette, Syracuse) they played twice. And they lost the first of those six games, on New Year's Day at Marquette. Again, that's not easy to do.

But first they have to beat the Friars once more. They've put themselves in a terrific position. Not taking advantage of that at this point would be wasting a perfectly good opening. *