With a pair of close victories, Villanova has regained its Big East footing after a blowout loss. It now takes a night off from conference play to try to finish the job within Philadelphia's Big Five.
The ninth-ranked Wildcats make the short commute to Temple on Saturday hoping to complete a 4-0 city series with a win over the struggling Owls.
Villanova coach Jay Wright says the games against Philadelphia foes fit right in with his team's Big East mentality.
"I have always said that when we play in our Big Five games in November and December, it's like a Big East game," Wright told the school's official website. "It doesn't seem strange to play this now. I have always looked at these games like Big East games. It seems like another road game in a tough environment."
The Wildcats (18-2) are in the Big Five driver's seat with city wins over Penn, Saint Joseph's and La Salle. Temple (6-13), however, can still claim a share of the title. The Owls beat Penn and Saint Joseph's but lost to La Salle.
Temple and La Salle each finished 3-1 last season as the Owls shared the title for a second straight season. Villanova last won it in 2010-11 and has fallen to Temple the last two seasons, including a 76-61 home loss last season.
Wright expects another tough fight despite the Owls' down record.
"They're good," Wright said. "They're a team very similar to us last year - a team that lost a lot of experienced, successful players and now everyone is learning a new role. Dalton Pepper is really coming into his own as a leading scorer and they're learning how to play together."
Despite winning twice since their 96-68 home loss to Creighton on Jan. 20, things didn't come easy for the Wildcats at Marquette or Georgetown. Villanova blew a nine-point lead in the final 2:36 of regulation in a 94-85 overtime win over the Golden Eagles, then matched a season low with 18 field goals in Monday's 65-60 victory over the Hoyas.
"We haven't been pretty in either one of them," Wright said. "But we found a way."
Guard James Bell led the way on an otherwise uninspiring offensive night against Georgetown with 16 points. The senior has averaged 20.5 over his last four games to increase his team-leading average to 15.1.
Temple is 0-3 against ranked teams as the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference is proving more difficult than it had hoped. However, it has beaten a top-10 opponent in five straight seasons.
The Owls had lost eight straight - their longest losing streak since 1975-76 - before Wednesday's 88-82 home win over Rutgers, their first league victory.
"We need to build on this. We have a tough game Saturday," coach Fran Dunphy said. "... We needed it. We needed it very, very badly, and I was proud of our guys."
Pepper (18.0 points per game) scored 20 points while Will Cummings (16.5) led the way with 21.
"Certainly his playmaking was great," Dunphy said of Cummings, who had a career-high eight assists and one turnover.
Along with Quenton DeCosey's 15.6 and Anthony Lee's 14.2, Temple is the only Division I team with four players averaging at least 14.0 points.
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