So many of these games between Georgetown and Villanova have been decided by two points that you had to figure 12th-ranked Georgetown would not be able to maintain the 18-point lead it raced to in the first half.

Indeed, Villanova came back and had a chance to win in the final two minutes, before Georgetown's Reggie Williams made at least four critical plays that helped the Hoyas take a 76-72 victory over Villanova before 11,541 last night at Capital Centre.

Even with Williams not hitting many of the shots he normally does (going seven for 15) and committing rare turnovers, he played fabulously down the stretch and finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

When Villanova freshman Doug West scored his second straight inside basket to bring the Wildcats within 58-54 with 6:42 left, Williams grabbed Michael Jackson's missed jumper, was fouled and hit the free throws to put the Hoyas ahead, 60-54.

On the subsequent inbounds play, Williams stole the ball and got it to David Wingate, who scored the layup for two of his 18 points, making it 62-54.

"We wanted to force a five-second violation," Williams said. "We were gambling a little bit. But we wanted to make the good defensive play right then."

Georgetown (14-3, 5-2 in the Big East) certainly would need the cushion because the Hoyas didn't execute their offense effectively against Villanova's press and committed several of their 23 turnovers down the stretch.

And after Horace Broadnax missed the front end of a one-and-one foul set, Villanova's Harold Jensen hit an 18-foot jumper for two of his team-high 18 points to bring the Wildcats within 68-65 with 2:20 left.

Villanova had a chance to cut its deficit to a single point when Williams committed his fourth foul, after West had stripped Wingate of the ball near midcourt.

It was Williams' last mistake of the night. Harold Pressley, one of the heroes in Villanova's NCAA championship victory over Georgetown last season, missed the front end of a one-and-one situation, and Williams grabbed the rebound.

Georgetown eventually worked the ball to Wingate, who missed the first shot but got the rebound and put it in for a 70-65 lead.

The Hoyas had some problems executing their inbounds plays, but after a jam by West made it 70-67, Georgetown quickly got the ball down court and increased the margin to five points when Williams grabbed a missed layup by Broadnax and laid the ball in with 1:06 later.

The Hoyas ran an almost identical play in the final 30 seconds, and Williams stuck back another Broadnax miss for a 75-68 lead.

"With a minute to go we were in position to win, and when you do that on the road against a ranked team, a good team like Georgetown, well, it's a heck of an effort," Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino said.

Georgetown is getting better in many phases and has to be encouraged by the play of 6-8 freshman forward Johnathan Edwards, who scored a career-high 14 points and made all four of his shots from the field in 19 minutes of playing time.

Edwards' play was as strong as that of any Villanova front-court player, including Pressley, who needed 39 minutes to total 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Since Georgetown's victory over Seton Hall on Saturday, several advertisements around town billed last night's game as a "rematch" of last year's national title thriller, which could easily be described, as Thompson said, as "stupid."

"What revenge is there in a regular season game versus a national championship?" he asked rhetorically. "It's stupid to even say; that's promotional value."

Thompson no doubt, however, was quite happy to get the victory over a Villanova team (12-8, 4-2) he called very underrated.

"Rollie's got them playing well now," he said. "Villanova is much better than they're given credit for being . . . . I enjoy coaching against Rollie. Sometimes it's better to coach against somebody you like."

Thompson liked what he saw in the first half when the Hoyas, after falling behind by 4-0, outscored Villanova, 28-6, to take a 28-10 lead.

The Wildcats play a somewhat different style than they did last year, now that freshman Kenny Wilson, a quick penetrator, is running the team.

Wilson fouled out with 14 minutes to play, but Thompson knew Massimino could send in enough veterans, such as senior guard Dwight Wilbur, to stay in the game.

The Hoyas led, 41-28, at halftime, but it wasn't long before Villanova's defense helped create some transition baskets -- the Wildcats shot 65 percent in the second half -- and get back into the game.

Wingate said he knew "an 18-point lead would be hard to sustain because you tend to get a little lackadaisical."

"I looked up once at the clock and we had a nine-point lead," Thompson recalled. "I looked back again and it was down to three."

But that's when Villanova began to see just how good Williams can be when it counts.

"I wouldn't call myself struggling," he said, "because I was missing good shots so I knew I should keep shooting."

Both teams shot well the entire night. The Hoyas finished with 52.6 percent, led by Wingate, who made nine of 16, and Michael Jackson, who hit four of six, all from long range.

Villanova hit on 53.6 of its field goal attempts, led by Plansky's five-for-six, and Jensen's eight-for-13, mostly on deep jump shots.

It wasn't quite the 79 percent the Wildcats shot in the NCAA championship last spring, but it certainly was above average.

In fact, if the Wildcats had made a more reasonable number of free throws -- they missed eight of 18 for the game -- they might have come through with the upset which would have kept them atop the Big East.

Even so, Massimino is pleased that his team has come along so well since the beginning of the season when people picked Villanova to finish seventh in the league.

"We've traveled a lot of miles in the last three weeks. Now, I feel we can play with anybody in the United States," he said.