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Ashley Howard goes up against his old team when La Salle plays Villanova in Big 5 game

Howard was a part of two Villanova national championships but now will bring his La Salle team to the Palestra for the first time as a head coach to take on the Wildcats.

Jay Wright, left, will face former assistant Ashley Howard on Saturday when Villanova and La Salle play at the Palestra.
Jay Wright, left, will face former assistant Ashley Howard on Saturday when Villanova and La Salle play at the Palestra.Read moreJessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

Phil Booth was one of the first players Ashley Howard recruited for Villanova, a key contributor to a pair of national-championship teams with the Wildcats on which Howard played an integral role as a member of Jay Wright’s coaching staff.

Booth and Howard both will be at the Palestra on Saturday, but on different benches. Booth will lead the Cats (5-2) into their first Big 5 game of the season against La Salle (0-7, 0-1 City Series) and Howard, who is looking for his initial victory as a head coach.

“That’s my guy,” Booth said Friday after practice at the Davis Center. “Ash is a big reason why I came here, much respect to him. I talk to him when I get a chance. I’m glad to see where he’s at now. But it’s going to be different to see him.”

It’s different, too, for Howard, who was introduced as the Explorers’ new head coach exactly one week after he helped Villanova cut down the nets at the Alamodome in San Antonio following the championship-game win over Michigan.

“Honestly, it’s different watching those dudes on tape than all the other opponents because I find myself watching them almost like a proud parent,” Howard said. “They’re a young team, younger than any of their teams were when I was at Villanova.

“After experiencing a couple of tough losses and then watching how those guys bounced back in Florida, I’m proud of those dudes. I’m happy to see that they’re playing well. But now I’ve got to try to prepare to figure out a way to stop them. That won’t be an easy task.”

The Wildcats won three straight games last week at the AdvoCare Invitational tournament in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., including a 66-60 victory over 14th-ranked Florida State for the title. The Cats returned to the AP top 25 this week at No. 23.

Three weeks after going up against another former assistant, Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy, Wright gets to do it again with Howard.

“Just like with Baker, I don’t like it,” Wright said. “I never really wanted one of our guys to get a job in the Big 5 because then you have to compete against him in recruiting and in games. But this was perfect for Ash, so I had to support this one.

“You watch their Lafayette game, you watch their Temple game, their Drexel game, they could have won those games. I think our guys will see the intensity that La Salle plays with.”

Villanova has not lost a Big 5 game in almost six years, since it dropped a 76-61 decision to Temple at home on Dec. 5, 2012. The Wildcats have won 22 straight in the City Series since then, only two by fewer than 10 points, including last year’s 77-68 win over the Explorers.

The Wildcats know Howard will have his team ready. Booth said he sees him incorporating “a little stuff here and there” from his Villanova days from watching tape of earlier games.

For his part, Howard could be excited about standing along the Palestra sideline for the first time as a head coach. But his only thought is “next game.”

“If I had to coach my next game at Belfield Recreation Center and try to chase my first win, I’d be happy,” he said. “I’m not even at the point where I’m thinking about where this game is. Obviously going down to the Palestra is a cool experience, but it’s an opportunity for our team to play one of the best teams in the country and get better, so I’m looking forward to that.”