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Villanova preparing for a third consecutive Big 5 battle, this one against St. Joseph’s

The Wildcats needed to come back to defeat both La Salle and Temple in their first two Big 5 games of the season, and expects the Hawks to be just as tough even though St. Joe's Charlie Brown is questionable with an ankle injury.

Joe Cremo, bottom center, of Villanova is lifted up by Tim Saunders, left center, and Peyton Heck after diving after a loose ball during the 2nd half at Finneran Pavilion on Dec. 5, 2018.    CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Joe Cremo, bottom center, of Villanova is lifted up by Tim Saunders, left center, and Peyton Heck after diving after a loose ball during the 2nd half at Finneran Pavilion on Dec. 5, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff PhotographerRead more

Villanova coach Jay Wright is pleased that his young players appear to have gotten the message about the intensity required in Big 5 contests, which is why he feels a little better going into Saturday’s game against St. Joseph’s at Finneran Pavilion, the Wildcats' third straight game against a City Series opponent.

The Cats (7-2, 2-0 Big 5) trailed La Salle by as many as 12 points last Saturday before capturing an 85-78 victory at the Palestra. Four days later, Temple led for more than 13 minutes of the second half before a 12-0 run helped carry ‘Nova to a 69-59 win, its 24th in a row against Big 5 opponents.

“I could even tell talking to the guys before the Temple game, when I referenced La Salle, I saw a different look in their eyes than before the La Salle game,” Wright said Friday after practice. “I think we’ll get the same response going into this game.”

One of the older new Wildcats is graduate transfer Joe Cremo, who scored 11 points, six in the final 1 minute, 43 seconds against Temple. He noted that the Cats’ Big 5 opponents to date have been ready to play.

“You’ve got to set the tone from the jump because those teams are bringing the fight every night,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready to bring it right back or else you’re going to be in for a dogfight. And all these games are dogfights, really, so you’ve just got to come out ready to play.”

The scoring of Cremo and sophomore forward Jermaine Samuels, who scored all of his career-high 15 points in the second half, was vital. Temple paid extra attention to seniors Eric Paschall (3-for-15 shooting) and Phil Booth (2-for-7) and limited the pair to a combined 19 points

“Their game plan to take Booth and Paschall out of it was very effective, and we were struggling,” Wright said. “Joe, Jermaine and Collin [Gillespie] really stepped up and that’s what we need. Sometimes somebody’s got to make it happen for you, and that was really important for us coming out of that game.”

The Hawks (5-4, 0-1) will present more challenges, although redshirt sophomore forward Charlie Brown, the team’s leading scorer with a 22-point average, is questionable for the game because of an ankle injury suffered in Wednesday night’s win at Princeton. Brown’s status will be decided before the game.

Should he play, Brown will be “probably as good as anyone we’re going to play” in a one-on-one isolation situation, Wright said.

“They do a great job with all their shooters of giving him space,” he said. “So dealing with him and getting the right matchups on him is going to be important.”

If Brown is not available, St. Joseph’s will turn to its other double-figure scorers – guards Lamarr Kimble (18 points per game) and Jared Bynum (13.9) and forward Taylor Funk (11.7). The trio combined for 57 points against Princeton.

“They’re really explosive offensively,” Wright said. “They have so many weapons. Funk’s as good a three-pointer shooter as we’re going to play against. The guards, Kimble and Bynum, are really dynamic. They can create shots for themselves, create shots for others.”

St. Joseph’s at Villanova

Saturday, 2 p.m., Finneran Pavilion

Records: St. Joseph’s, 5-4, 0-1 Big 5: Villanova, 7-2, 2-0 Big 5, ranked No. 21 by AP.

Coaches: St. Joseph’s, Phil Martelli (24th season, 435-313); Villanova, Jay Wright (18th season, 429-167).

TV/Radio: Fox Sports 1; WTEL-AM (610), WPHT-AM (1210).

What to expect: The Wildcats have won five consecutive games and are coming off a 69-59 victory over Temple in which they trailed for the majority of the second half. Phil Booth, who is 17 points shy of 1,000 for his career, leads the team in scoring with a 16-point average and Eric Paschall is right behind him at 15.1 points per game. The Hawks, whose last game resulted in a 92-82 win at Princeton, may be without forward Charlie Brown, their leading scorer with a 22-point average. Brown left the Princeton game early in the second half with an ankle injury and his availability will be a game-time decision.