Villanova will look to continue its recent dominance in Big 5 play when the Wildcats return to play the annual all-Philadelphia test with a matchup against La Salle on Sunday.
The No. 7-ranked Wildcats (3-2) will also look to get the best of Philadelphia rivals Pennsylvania, Temple and Saint Joseph's in Big 5 play, but first up is a La Salle program they have dominated of late.
Villanova and Temple are tied with 27 Big 5 titles apiece, although the Wildcats own the most outright championships with 16. Villanova also has won six of the last seven Big 5 titles, with no winner decided last season after schedules were adjusted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright heads into the matchup with a 17-2 career record against the Explorers, with two programs unable to meet last season.
The Wildcats fell 80-74 to No. 3 Purdue last Sunday in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic at Uncasville, Conn. Justin Moore led the way with 19 points and Caleb Daniels added 17 but Villanova was unable to hold a double-digit lead in the second half.
"We've got to get our young guys going," Wright said. "We probably don't have a 10-point lead playing those young guys right now. We've got a lot of growth ahead of us, a lot to learn. It's a decision you make during the game. These guys (who played) don't give in to it. It's our job as coaches to keep them fresh. We've got to do a better job of that as coaches."
Moore said a return to better execution is key vs. La Salle.
"I don't think we were tired," Moore said. "We didn't do the little things down the stretch that they were able to do. Rebounding, turnovers hurt us. We have to go back to work on those."
La Salle (2-2) will look for its second consecutive victory and will try to author a rare one against Villanova. The Explorers will enter off a 61-58 victory over Army last Saturday.
Jhamir Brickus led the way against Army with 14 points, while Khalil Brantley added 12. Brantley scored only 13 points combined in the first three games before breaking out against the Black Knights.
"I'm starting to get more comfortable," Brantley said. "I'm getting to my spots on the floor and I'm looking to get the best shot possible."
La Salle's four games have been decided by a total of 14 points.
"It has definitely helped me because when you're in close games, you can prepare for all the different kinds of scenarios," La Salle head coach Ashley Howard said. "We have a lot of depth and versatility. We're still trying to find our consistency. It's a long journey. We have to keep getting better."
The Explorers last defeated Villanova 77-74 in 2012-13. The teams last met Dec. 1, 2019, with Villanova earning an 83-72 victory.
If La Salle has a chance of an upset, improving even more on its suffocating defense will be crucial. That was the difference in the victory over Army.
"We were lucky we pulled out a win," Howard said. "It was because we got stops when we needed to get stops."
--Field Level Media