No. 22 Villanova, La Salle renew Big 5 rivalry

Field Level Media

Villanova will be looking to start a new streak in the Big 5 when it hosts rival La Salle on Sunday.

Last season, Villanova fell to Pennsylvania, 78-75, in the Big 5, which broke a 25-game winning streak dating to 2012. In addition to Villanova, Penn and La Salle, the Big 5 also consists of Temple and Saint Joseph's -- all Philadelphia teams.

"It was nice while it lasted," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of the Big 5 streak. "But you're always on to the next game. This is the most important one right now. It was fun to be a part of it and it will be something we think more about after our careers are over."

The No. 22-ranked Wildcats (4-2) are coming off an 87-78 loss to Baylor in the championship game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational, snapping a six-year streak of winning a preseason tournament. Junior guard Collin Gillespie scored 27 points against the Bears and was named to the all-tournament team as well as Big East Player of the Week. Gillespie averaged 20.3 points and 7.3 assists in the three tournament games.

Though the Wildcats lost in the final, they also defeated Middle Tennessee State and Mississippi State and competed against Baylor before falling just short. Villanova doesn't feature one scholarship senior, and Wright has been starting two freshmen for the first time since 2002-03.

Prized freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl continued to show flashes of his all-around stellar game with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Justin Moore is the other freshman in the starting lineup.

"We got better here," Wright said of the tournament. "We improved each game. I think Baylor is a really good team. We saw how much better we have to get to be at that level."

La Salle enters this Big 5 matchup with momentum after capturing the Gulf Coast Showcase championship with an 81-76 overtime victory over South Alabama on Wednesday.

Isiah Deas had a team-best 21 points while Ed Croswell added 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Explorers, who improved to 4-2. They were picked to finish 10th in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll.

La Salle is nearly halfway to its win total from all of last season when it finished 10-21.

Second-year head coach Ashley Howard, who previously had been an assistant coach under Wright at Villanova, said he believes that this year's version will be much improved.

"Honestly, I think they should expect a deep versatile team that's going to play a few young guys," Howard said. "We're pretty evenly talented across the board."

The Explorers have already played three teams thus far which advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season - Iona, Temple and Murray State. The fourth team will be Villanova, which has won the national championship in two of the last three years in 2016 and '18.

"We aren't starting our season with any lightweights," Howard said. "And I don't think we have any lightweights on our schedule, to be honest."

La Salle has been quite competitive against Villanova in the past three seasons though it dropped all three games by seven, nine and 10 points, respectively.

--Field Level Media

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