VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Villanova coach Jay Wright gave his usual rah-rah pregame speech on how much it means to play a game in one of the more cherished series’ in college hoops.
Big 5 basketball. Round-robin play among five Philadelphia Division-I basketball teams that dates to 1955 and has been defined by hostile, split crowds and last-shot theatrics.
The Wildcats have created a new kind of flavor in the Big 5 — a dominant one.
Darrun Hilliard scored 21 points and Josh Hart added 13, lifting undefeated No. 10 Villanova past La Salle, 73-52 on Sunday.
“It’s good to be 10-0, I guess,” Hilliard said. “But we’ve got a whole lot of work to do.”
And only one more city team, Temple, left to pad that record.
The Wildcats are 10-0 for the first time since the 2005-06 season, and can thank their thumpings over their lesser city rivals. They beat Penn by 23 and Saint Joseph’s by 30. The Wildcats opened the second half on a 15-5 run that helped them build a comfortable lead and blow out the Explorers (5-5).
Wright might have to give up on the inspirational talks before the Feb. 1 game at Temple.
“You really don’t expect this,” Wright said. “Sometimes our guys not being familiar with all the history is a good thing. Usually it bites us in the butt. Our guys look at La Salle as a team that went to the Sweet 16 last year, and they’re just their next game.”
La Salle’s Jerrell Wright scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. The Explorers snapped a 10-game series losing streak to Villanova in last season’s Big 5 game, on their way toward their deepest NCAA tournament run in decades.
“We’ve regressed for multiple reasons,” La Salle coach John Giannini said.
The Wildcats still have a Dec. 28 game at Syracuse ahead they want to match the program-best 13-0 start in 1937-38.
Wright’s team isn’t in the top 10 because of victories against the city lightweights, but because of wins over Top 25 teams Kansas and Iowa.
“You can start this way, and if you don’t keep getting better, you can slip,” Wright said, “and if you slip, you don’t necessarily get it back.”
The Wildcats shot 59 percent in the second half to beat La Salle for the 11th time in the last 12 games.
The city series rivalry is embraced by students, and fans and coaches who grew up around or played in Philly like Wright and Temple’s Fran Dunphy.
For the players, all the speeches in the world may not add extra fuel once the ball is tipped.
“I didn’t really take too much notice of the Big 5,” Hilliard said “I didn’t even know what it was until I came in here.”
This win was pretty much all Villanova.
The Wildcats’ 38-34 halftime lead was stretched in a hurry, with JayVaughn Pinkston hitting a 3 for a 46-35 lead. Hilliard and Kris Jenkins nailed consecutive 3s for a 57-39 lead. Jenkins scored 11.
Unable to handle Villanova’s hand-in-the face D, the Explorers totally lost their way in the second half. They committed six turnovers on the first eight possessions and had 10 in the half at the 7:13 mark, well above their 9.9 per game average.
La Salle may have been the best team in Philly hoops this season. A year after a surprising trip to the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats have clearly wrested that title again.
“They’re an infinitely better basketball team than they were eight months ago,” Giannini said. “Each person on that team is just better.”
They did it without much production from their two leading scorers. Pinkston (17.8 points) scored only seven and Bell (17.6) had just three. Hilliard bettered his 13.8 average and Hart only averaged eight. Hilliard had 6 of 11 shooting from the floor and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.
“Once we had pretty good separation, our depth was a factor,” Wright said.
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