Winning an early-season tournament may have provided a tougher test than Villanova might have preferred. The next two games shouldn’t be as difficult.
The No. 4 Wildcats will try to re-establish their dominant play Saturday when they host Big 5 and intracity rival La Salle.
Villanova (5-0), which started last season 8-0, beat its first two opponents - Farleigh Dickinson and Penn - by a combined 61 points as the Wildcats showed why they’re considered a favorite to win the Big East.
That dominant play didn’t carry into the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, as the Wildcats needed a 3-pointer from freshman Isaiah Armwood with 17 seconds left to edge George Mason 69-68 on Nov. 19. The next day, they nearly blew an 18-point lead to then-No. 18 Dayton before holding on for a 71-65 victory.
A strong defensive effort helped Villanova win the tournament with Sunday’s 79-67 victory over Mississippi, limiting the Rebels to 38.1 percent shooting.
“You know, this tournament is a great tournament with all the teams that are in it,” said Reynolds, who had 21 points Sunday after being held to eight against the Flyers—matching his season low. “(We) haven’t really been tested against a tough team, and we beat three tough teams.”
Villanova might not have as much trouble in its next two games before opening a four-game road trip at No. 21 Maryland on Dec. 6. The team will host Drexel on Wednesday after facing La Salle (3-1).
The Wildcats have won 19 of their last 20 games against Philadelphia rivals.
Antonio Pena is emerging as a force for Villanova after being named MVP of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The junior forward made 8 of 13 shots to match his career high with 17 points and set another with 16 rebounds Sunday.
Pena is averaging a career-high 12.2 points and leads the conference with 11.0 boards after posting 5.1 and 4.2 per game, respectively, last season.
“He’s rebounded consistently for us in all five games and to get 16 (on Sunday) against a tough team like that really shows his maturity,” coach Jay Wright said. “I’m really happy for him.”
The Wildcats are 32-26 against the Explorers, taking control of the all-time series by winning the last seven by an average of 15.0 points. They won the last matchup 70-59 at La Salle on Dec. 14.
La Salle seeks a third consecutive win after beating Tulane 61-59 on Sunday to finish fifth in the Charleston Classic.
“I think this is the kind of win that allows you to potentially have a good season,” coach John Giannini said. “You’re not going to play well every night. We did a lot of things poorly and still managed to win against a quality opponent.”
Guard Rodney Green is looking to rebound from a sub-par performance against the Green Wave, making 3 of 8 shots for 13 points while grabbing eight rebounds. That performance came after he topped 20 points in each of the previous three games.
Green leads the Explorers with averages of 20.0 points and 7.8 assists, and had 16 points and six boards in the last meeting with Villanova.
La Salle has lost 13 in a row to Top 25 opposition.
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