CHICAGO - On one side of the locker room, Villanova's two true seniors talked with the coaches. On the other side was the version of the "kids' table."

That's where Curtis Sumpter - the so-called "old head" on the team - chose to hang out.

"He's so cool to them," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

The Wildcats have an age gap. Fifth-year senior Sumpter is a 23-year-old forward. Freshman Scottie Reynolds is a 19-year-old point guard.

Sumpter refers to Reynolds as "kid" in conversations. Reynolds is among the players who tease Sumpter about stretching before he can take the court and dunk.

Yet the old and the young have combined to be a powerful force, blending their inside and outside games to make Villanova its most dangerous.

The burden will be on both to get Villanova past the first round of the NCAA tournament tonight, when ninth-seeded Villanova (22-10) faces No. 8 seed Kentucky (21-11) at the United Center.

A win would pit Villanova against either top-seeded Kansas or No. 16 seed Niagara on Sunday.

"Me and Curt have had a real good little run here," Reynolds said. "We feel really good about the on-the-court chemistry and the off-the-court chemistry."

It has taken time.

Sumpter carried Villanova at the start of the season, leading the Wildcats in scoring in 11 of their first 15 games. He later suffered shin and hamstring injuries that held him back. Then Reynolds took over.

Reynolds led the team in scoring in six of seven games in January and became the Wildcats' main threat late in the season.

Sumpter's health improved, and so did his on-court relationship with Reynolds.

"I think we've become a lot closer, just being on the court," Sumpter said. "Not that there was anything wrong. We had chemistry, but not what it was supposed to be. Now we've definitely got it and we want to keep building on it."

In the last four games, in which Villanova has gone 3-1, Sumpter averaged 20.2 points a game and Reynolds averaged 25.5.

It started with Villanova's win at Connecticut on Feb. 28. Reynolds dropped in 40 points, but Sumpter scored 18 points with 10 rebounds and looked rejuvenated.

"I think that's something we struggled with early," Wright said. "We were very predictable. I think the inside-outside punch with those two is real important. I think we're playing our best basketball right now because of that."

Reynolds was fascinated by Villanova's four-guard offense that advanced to the tournament's Elite Eight last season, but he had not seen Sumpter play. Sumpter sat on the bench all last season with a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt.

Reynolds, who backed out of a commitment at Oklahoma after a coaching change, still knew of Sumpter's reputation - and what the two could be together.

"When you have someone who's 6-8 and can put it on the floor and come out to the perimeter and knock down threes - that's something not a lot of players can do," Reynolds said. "He can do just about anything. A player who can draw that much attention, that got my attention as well."

Reynolds was a mystery to Sumpter at first.

"Once Scottie came, I didn't know too much about him," Sumpter said. "Once he got here on campus and to some open gyms, I saw the kid could play."

In the first half of the season, Villanova had to coax Reynolds to shoot and to not worry about stealing the seniors' glory.

Sumpter encouraged Reynolds with messages such as, "Don't worry about messing up. I'm always supporting you. Just play hard. If you fall, I'll pick you up."

On the eve of his first NCAA tournament game, Reynolds looked for advice from the old man.

"He's been through everything you don't want in a career," Reynolds said. "For him to handle that, you know you can turn to him for anything."

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