The door first opened for Villanova freshman Scottie Reynolds in January, when a few of his teammates were ill and, figuring they needed him against DePaul, he felt free to unleash.

Since that 25-point performance in the loss, Reynolds has shown more and more that he understands his teammates need him for every game.

Villanova could use Reynolds' help more than ever at this point in the season, and tonight he delivered again in a 78-74 win at Connecticut for the up-and-down Wildcats (20-9 overall, 8-7 Big East Conference).

Reynolds scored 40 points at Gampel Pavilion for a career high and a Villanova freshman record. He broke Alex Bradley's mark of 35 set in February 1978.

Nobody would confuse this game with the memorable battles the Big East rivals slugged out last season.

Back then, Villanova and Connecticut were dueling for the Big East regular-season title - which they shared - a No. 1 ranking and a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

This time, the stakes were considerably lower.

Villanova is working for an NCAA bid and has just one game remaining, against Syracuse on Saturday. The Huskies are likely headed to the NIT.

Reynolds went 12 for 25 from the floor and was off by just one of the Big East freshman scoring record set in 1990 by Seton Hall's Marco Lokar.

While Reynolds' help put Villanova in control in the second half, the Wildcats hardly coasted to the final buzzer.

Villanova led by 11 points in the second half before the Huskies (17-12 overall, 6-9 Big East) drew within three, 65-63, with 2 minutes, 33 seconds to play.

A foul by Reggie Redding put Hasheem Thabeet on the line with 2:27 remaining. He missed the first and made the second, and UConn trailed by a point.

Reynolds controlled most of the game, but senior Curtis Sumpter pulled down a big offensive rebound off a Reynolds miss to give the Wildcats a three-point lead, 67-64.

On the next Connecticut possession, Sumpter tipped a miss to Mike Nardi.

Then the freshman did it again, scoring on a reverse layup with a little more than a minute to play for a 69-64 'Nova advantage.

Sumpter was not as flashy as Reynolds, but his solid work resulted in 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Huskies did not go down easily.

With 1.3 seconds to go, Jerome Dyson hit a three-pointer for a 76-74 Connecticut deficit.

But the Wildcats can do something the Huskies cannot - shoot free throws.

Villanova sealed the win by hitting 7 of its final 8 free throws.

Foul trouble caught up with the Wildcats, who saw Will Sheridan and Dante Cunningham foul out. Neither scored in the game.

Sumpter had picked up his fourth foul with about 13 minutes remaining in the game.

Shane Clark and Nardi finished the game with four fouls apiece.

Reynolds fouled out with 40.8 seconds to go, but by then he had done his job.

It helped Villanova that the Huskies have as many good free-throw shooters as Storrs does five-star restaurants.

The Huskies shot just 24 of 44 from the line, but they still gave a chase at the end when Villanova went nearly four minutes without a field goal in the second half.

The Wildcats were 22 for 31 from the free-throw line.

Despite sweating it out, they can find comfort in closing it out.

They gave up leads in losing to Marquette and Georgetown in their last two losses.

In this game, they managed to get down to business and close the deal.

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5503 or sryan@phillynews.com.