NEW YORK - Villanova has played 33 games. It has won 31 of them, which is already a program record. The Wildcats would like to win more.
Last night at Madison Square Garden, they won their 14th straight, 63-61, over defending champion Providence (21-11) in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. The winning streak ties a program record for most in a season.
The difference was two free throws by junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, the co-Big East Player of the Year, with 3.1 seconds, to go after Providence, which never led after 3-2, rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final 13 1/2 minutes.
The Friars tied things at 12.4, on a layup by Kris Dunn, who shared the award with Arch, off a steal by Ben Bentil on an inbounds pass.
Arcidiacono was able to drive down the right side of the lane and draw contact from Bentil near the basket, although replays seemed to indicate it might not have necessarily been the right call.
"I thought it was 50-50," Friars coach Ed Cooley said. "This time, it didn't go our way."
Doesn't matter now. Providence had no timeouts, so the best it could do was get a halfcourt shot from LaDontae Henton, the conference's top scorer. But it sailed wide right.
"What a great college basketball game," said Wildcats coach Jay Wright, who was coaching at Hofstra the last time Villanova was in the final. "It was a thrill to be in it. It's what you dream of.
"Our guts and a couple of big plays at the end [won it]. You have to have great resilience to keep going. I really like this team. We had a couple of guys who weren't in sync tonight. I don't know why. But other guys stepped up. And we found a way to pull it out. That's what it takes."
Should the 'Cats win one more, which would be tonight against either Georgetown or Xavier, they would win the conference title for the first time since 1995. This is the first time they've even been in the title game in 18 years. And the first time they've won more than one game in this tourney since 2004, which was also the last time they played Providence here.
Georgetown was the last team to beat Villanova, by 20 in Washington on Jan. 19. The Wildcats won the rematch at the Wells Fargo Center 3 weeks later, by 16.
The Wildcats beat Xavier by 13 at the Pavilion and a dozen in Cincinnati.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats are still very much in play for one of the four top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia, another projected No. 1, lost to North Carolina last night in the ACC semifinals.
"I honestly don't know enough about it, I really don't," Wright said when asked whether he thought his team had done enough already to get a spot on the top line. "I don't follow that. If we win, I think we deserve a 1. But I don't know all of the paramaters."
Sixth Man of the Year Josh Hart led the Wildcats in scoring for the second straight game, with 18 on 7-for-10 shooting. His three from the left wing made it 59-54 with a little under 2 minutes remaining.
A foul-line jumper by the 'Cats' leading scorer, Darrun Hilliard, made it 61-56 with just over a minute showing. But he then committed his fifth foul, his second in less than a minute, going for a steal at midcourt. A driving layup by Dunn made it 61-59 with 16 seconds to go to set up the closing sequence.
Big man Daniel Ochefu had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. Hilliard scored 12, on 5-for-13 shooting, in 28 minutes. Arcidiacono had six, after getting five in Thursday's lopsided win over Marquette.
The Wildcats shot 7-for-23 from the arc, after going 17-for-29 some 30 hours earlier.
Dunn had 22 for the Friars, to go with nine assists. Bentil was his only teammate in double digits, with 12. Henton had nine, on 2-for-9 shooting. The Friars, who played zone most of the way, had 12 more boards. Wasn't quite enough.
"This is where experience came in," Wright said. "This group has been around. You just say next play. I think they're more calm than I am. There was no doubt we were going to make a play there [at the end].
"We were concerned how much time would be left, and would we be able to get a stop."
The Wildcats had won their two previous games by 37 (at home against St. John's) and 35. This was only their third game in the winning streak that wasn't decided by double digits. But, at this stage of the season, it's never about how many.
The Wildcats have been a No. 1 seed only once, in 2006, when they reached the Final Eight. They were a 2 last year and lost in their second game to eventual national champion Connecticut. They were also a 2 in 2010 and lost in their second game, to St. Mary's.
But that's a story line for the Selection Show and next week.
Right now is about making some history.
"It wasn't tough at all," Hart said. "We got in the [last] huddle and looked at each other and said 'attitude' and we moved on. We had 12 more seconds left to play Villanova basketball. We knew we [made] one mistake [on the turnover], but it was in the past. We focused on the last 12 seconds, and luckily it worked out for us."
Mostly, it has. The only unknown left is to see how far it can take them.