SATURDAY AFTERNOON at the Wachovia Center was pretty much business as usual for Corey Fisher.

Villanova's sixth starter entered the second-round NCAA Tournament game against UCLA after just 2 1/2 minutes. Some 40 seconds later he was fouled while shooting a trey and converted all three free throws. The next time down the floor he made a short banker. The possession after that he fed Dante Cunningham for a short jumper. Not long after, he hit a tough driving layup. And his team was off to another Sweet 16, in less time than it took for the Bruins to complain about the officiating.

More often than not, that's exactly what the 6-1 sophomore guard from the Bronx brings to the party.

In the second half it was more of the same.

He got in with 17:43 showing. At 16:57 he nailed a 20-footer. On the ensuing trip he came up with a loose ball in the left corner, drove baseline and put in a floater while being knocked to the court by 6-9 Nikola Dragovic. Then he completed the and-one and the lead was up to 22. See you up in Boston on Thursday night.

"Honestly, Corey does that every day [in practice]," said Cunningham, a senior forward. "It was almost, you know, just another layup for him really.

"I mean, it looked like [Dragovic] was just going to block it. But [Fisher] does that all the time. On me, and everyone on our team . . . It was big."

His contributions generally have been.

There's a whole bunch of reasons why Villanova still has at least one more game left, against Duke in the second half of the East Regional semifinals.

In one offseason, Cunningham has gone from a solid soldier to someone who can carry you.

While his game hasn't always been pretty, Dwayne Anderson is the leader on a squad loaded with them.

Scottie Reynolds, as on or off as he can be, remains a guy who not enough folks fully appreciate.

Shane Clark and Reggie Redding do nothing but fulfill their complimentary roles. Against UCLA, that was 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting, 10 boards, eight assists and five steals in 50 combined minutes.

Corey Stokes, like Fisher, comes off the bench and provides instant long-distance capability.

Then there's Fish, who in a game last season against Georgetown went 1-for-16 in only 27 minutes. Mostly because for whatever reason he kept trying to shoot over 7-footer Roy Hibbert. It didn't make any sense. Jay Wright finally had to take him out down the stretch, and Villanova nearly rallied from way back. Yet one thing was evident: Fisher won't back down. It's not remotely in his mentality.

For a high school All-America, it was merely a matter of making that work to his advantage at this level.

Coach Wright used to bring him in after 6 or 7 minutes. Now, he doesn't even wait until the first TV timeout.

It's hardly a coincidence. You can sense those good vibes percolating before he sheds his warmups.

"I did notice that, in our last game," Wright said. "When he stood up, everybody kind of got excited. It's a great spark for us. We have great confidence in him. We like to start with the [three] seniors out there. But I think he's given us a sense of depth, that we have answers for different styles of play."

Fisher, the team's third-leading scorer at nearly 11 points a game, runs at mainly warp speed. There aren't many defenders who have managed to keep him in front of them on any kind of regular basis. He still makes his share of mistakes, at both ends. It can come with the approach. Yet when the ball's in his hands there aren't many dull moments.

"I'm just trying to bring energy to everything I do," Fisher said. "But it's not just me. That's everybody's job. I've been doing that all my life. That's just me staying hungry and humble. Nothing's changed.

"Any guy can start, any guy can score, any guy can make the play. The older guys set the example. When I get in, I don't want to let them down. I want to keep it going. Coming out of high school, it's hard not being a star. You've got to get over that. Everybody doesn't understand. But I don't worry about what people on the outside might be saying. That's not what's important.

"Being a competitor, you always have that sense of urgency when you get out there. When we came in as freshmen, we just thought about scoring. As you grow older, you have to do every little thing if you want to be successful. As a player, and a team."

In Fisher and Stokes, Wright has about as good a 1-2 reserve punch as anyone. Nothing wrong with big-time options.

"A lot of times, players in their position come in thinking they're better than the guys playing ahead of them," Wright said. "That's what makes them good. I want them to think that. But they respect the older guys so much, they've accepted those roles, because of the place the older guys already had in the program. That says a lot about them. But they probably still think they're better. And they might be."

One of these days, Wright might bring Fisher in at the first whistle. Until then . . .

"Where I come from, you're taught to be tough," Fisher said. "If you're not, your boys will make fun of you. There's nothing wrong with failing. I fail plenty of times. You just have to keep getting back up. If you really want something bad enough you keep working at it, no matter how long it takes.

"When I come in, I'm in position to determine what's going to happen. I just play with a clear mind. If it doesn't go our way you have to keep playing. Last year, I wasn't as focused as I am now. I'd play defense, but I wasn't really into it. If you want to be the player you want to be, that won't work. You have to make the most out of every opportunity."

Regardless of when it arrives. *