La Salle-Villanova Preview
Though Villanova had little trouble dispatching its first two Big Five opponents, it doesn't expect to have an easy time with the next one.
Looking to start 10-0 for the first time in eight years, the No. 10 Wildcats try to avenge last season's loss to city rival La Salle on Sunday at the Pavilion.
Villanova (9-0) cracked the top 10 of the AP poll for the first time since February 2011 after beating Philadelphia Big Five rivals Pennsylvania and Saint Joseph's by a combined 53 points last week. The Wildcats held those opponents to a combined 35.2 percent shooting, including 10 of 35 from 3-point range.
They led by four at halftime last Saturday at Saint Joseph's before shooting 48.5 percent and hitting 9 of 16 from long range in the final 20 minutes to roll to a 98-68 victory. JayVaughn Pinkston had 27 points and James Bell set career highs with 25 and 14 rebounds as the Wildcats continued a strong start that included victories over ranked teams Kansas and Iowa to win the Battle 4 Atlantis title last month.
"We're playing good basketball because we're sticking with what we do," said the 6-foot-6 Bell, who is averaging 19.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in the last three games. "We're defending, we're rebounding. We're getting what we want out of doing what we do. It's very enjoyable to do it the right way."
Villanova coach Jay Wright hopes that approach will carry the program to its first 10-0 start since 2005-06. Wright was surprised by the way the Wildcats dominated the Hawks in the second half last weekend, but knows a difficult challenge could await his team Sunday.
During a 2012-13 season in which La Salle (5-4) reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, it also snapped a 10-game skid to the Wildcats with a 77-74 overtime home victory - the second straight year the game was decided in OT.
Six of LaSalle's top seven players return from last season's squad, including second-leading scorer Tyreek Duren (13.6 points per game). Though the senior guard has totaled 21 points while shooting 1 of 13 from 3-point range in the last three games, he's scored 47 and recorded 10 assists in the last two versus Villanova.
"We have great respect for La Salle," Wright told Villanova's official website. "(The Explorers) are similar to us in a lot of ways. We have to be ready to battle a tough, well-coached team."
La Salle has averaged 63.3 points and shot 39.3 percent in its last four games, but has won two straight and allowed 65 or fewer points in its previous three versus Northern Iowa, Hartford and Stony Brook.
Junior Jerrell Wright had 21 points as La Salle overcame 26.7 percent shooting in the first half and a nine-point deficit at the break against Stony Brook last Saturday. The Explorers shot 47.6 percent in the final 20 minutes to win 65-57 at Madison Square Garden.
"We need to play a full 40 minutes," Jerrell Wright told La Salle's official website. "We have to go out every day and play the way we played in the second half."
La Salle, which went 3-1 against ranked opponents last season, has dropped four straight at Villanova since a 61-58 overtime victory Nov. 27, 2001.
Pinkston had 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Explorers last season.