NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Villanova coach Jay Wright's recruiting efforts in the New York area have started to pay off.
Behind juniors Curtis Sumpter, Randy Foye and Allan Ray, the 21st-ranked Wildcats posted a 67-58 victory over No. 23 Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
Looking for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999, the Wildcats (22-6) rode the trio of former New York-area high school stars to their eighth straight victory and 13th in 15 games.
The trio was highly touted when they were lured south to Philadelphia. But the Wildcats struggled in their first two years and settled for a pair of NIT bids, which earned them a reputation for being soft.
"We knew a lot of people thought we were soft by how they played against us defensively" Foye said. "And they (Pittsburgh) were really physical, they wouldn't let us get the ball. But we talked about it as a team, about going out there and being tough. But you can't talk about it, you got to be about it. I think that's what we've shown this year."
Sumpter, a Brooklyn native, scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. He also did an excellent job of keeping Chevy Troutman in check on the defensive end.
"I knew it wasn't going to be an easy task," said Sumpter, whose defense caused Troutman to miss all five of his shots and limited him to eight points before fouling out. "I knew I was probably going to be exhausted on offense but I figured as long as I exert myself and give it all I got we should be fine.
"I just tried to play as hard as I can on defense, limit his touches. Every time he got the ball, I tried to force contested shots."
Foye, a native of Newark, New Jersey, led Villanova with 23 points. He combined with Ray, a Bronx native, to score 21 points in the first half as Villanova took a 31-19 lead into the locker room.
The game between the two intrastate rivals was a physical defensive struggle. Villanova missed its first seven shots while Pittsburgh missed its first five.
"I was an assistant coach in the Big East in the late 1980s and that was one of those old-school Big East games," Wright said. "That was a blood bath.
"It took some great players making some great plays for us. That's what it was, it was Randy and Curt stepping up big time. That's what great players do at this time of the year."
The Wildcats held the Panthers to 20 percent (5-of-25) from the floor in the first half. They closed out the opening 20 minutes with a 12-3 spurt, highlighted by Foye's three-point play and Ray's 3-pointer.
Pittsburgh (20-8), which had a pair of 17-point comebacks against Connecticut and Syracuse during the regular season, used an 11-2 run to close within 44-36 on a 3-pointer by Carl Krauser with 9:17 to play.
But Sumpter made two free throws, hit a 3-pointer and buried a jumper over the next 2 1/2 minutes to push Villanova's lead to 51-39 with 6:48 left. He added a jumper with 3:52 left to extend the advantage to 59-43.
Pittsburgh, which also has a number of players from New York, lost for the sixth time in eight games. The Panthers got 18 points from Bronx native Krauser but the point guard was limited to three assists and committed six of their 18 turnovers.
For the first time in five seasons, the Panthers will not be playing for the conference championship, something coach Jamie Dixon attributed to inexperience.
"For us as a team, we have so many guys that weren't around at that time, and haven't been in this situation," he said. "This is really their first Big East tournament. So completely different."
The Wildcats will face West Virginia in the semifinals after the eighth-seeded Mountaineers upset top seed Boston College earlier Thursday. It will be Villanova's first meeting with West Virginia since an 84-46 home win on January 5.
"You don't root for another team to win, but you know if West Virginia wins you have a lot of film to watch," Wright said. "We have started a little bit before we got here. But we have a lot of work to do. We haven't played them since the first game of the season."