Before No. 15 Villanova begins Big East play, it can wrap up an unofficial Big Five title on Monday when it hosts Temple.
Villanova (11-1) will travel to face Marquette on Thursday in its conference opener, but first finishes up its annual series of games against its city rivals. The Wildcats are looking to go 4-0 in Big Five games for the third time in four seasons.
Last season, Villanova and Temple (5-5) each went 3-1 in the Big Five, but the Wildcats posted a 101-93 road victory over the Owls on Dec. 9, 2007. Scottie Reynolds scored 27 points as Villanova harassed Temple star Dionte Christmas into 5-of-15 shooting for 20 points in its third straight win in the series.
The Wildcats can match their longest winning streak at the Pavilion by beating the Owls again. They have won 22 straight on campus since a 73-65 loss to DePaul on Jan. 6, 2007.
Villanova is hoping a six-day layoff for Christmas won’t affect it as much as its seven days off for exams did during its 78-68 win over Navy last Monday. The Wildcats were a step slow on defense all game, allowing the Midshipmen to make 14 3-pointers.
“That’s an excuse that we really take pride in not allowing to happen,” said coach Jay Wright about the layoff after final exams. “We hear it all the time. We practice to avoid it happening. We’ve seen it happen to other teams.”
Leading scorer Dante Cunningham had 24 points and 10 rebounds while Reynolds added 23 points. Cunningham bounced back from his worst effort of the season, a nine-point performance in a 70-59 win at Big Five rival La Salle on Dec. 14.
“We weren’t defending well and weren’t executing offensively so down the stretch we were going to go to Dante and Scottie and run everything for them,” Wright said. “They had to make plays, which they did, and I am proud of them for that.”
Reynolds matched a season high with his point total as the junior guard continues to work his way through a tough start to this campaign. The preseason All-Big East selection, who led Villanova in scoring last season, is averaging a career-low 14.7 points and shooting a career-worst 38.5 percent.
Temple has already split six road games, and is trying to avoid a third straight loss. The Owls dropped both games on their last road trip, falling 71-59 at Kansas on Dec. 20 and losing 76-71 last Monday at Long Beach State.
Christmas shot the ball poorly on the road trip, connecting on 36.4 percent (12-of-33) of his attempts for a total of 40 points. He was stifled in the first halves of those two games, managing only a total of three points - including a scoreless effort in the first 20 minutes against Long Beach State.
This represents the senior guard’s last chance to get a win over Villanova in his career.