Temple's defense of the Big Five women's basketball title is alive. The Owls thwarted Villanova's attempt to grab the City Series crown outright yesterday afternoon with a gritty 54-46 win at the Liacouras Center.

Had the Wildcats (9-3, 3-1 Big Five) prevailed, this season's title chase would have been over. Temple, which has swept to three straight championships in the round-robin, tied a St. Joseph's record with its 15th straight Big Five win.

"We plan on breaking it [Thursday] when we play Penn," Temple coach Dawn Staley said. "Our plan is to win the Big Five."

The Owls (6-6, 1-0) have been doing that consistently, and their current Big Five streak began with two wins at the close of the 2003-04 season.

The Hawks set their mark from 1998-99 to 2001-02.

No team has won four straight Big Five women's crowns. If that occurs, Temple seniors Ashley Morris and Lady Comfort will become the first players to win all their Big Five games. The round-robin began in the 1979-80 season.

Morris had 13 points for Temple yesterday, while junior Shenita Landry added 12. Junior transfer Shanea Cotton scored 10 points, and Comfort grabbed 13 rebounds.

Laura Kurz and Lisa Karcic each scored 14 points for the Wildcats, who had their powerful three-point shooting attack short-circuited by Temple's pressure.

Villanova, which was leading the nation with an 11.4 average on making treys, connected on just 4 of 27 attempts. By comparison, the Wildcats were 33 for 71 from beyond the arc in their two previous games.

"It's very hard for us to simulate them and them to simulate us," Staley said of the preparations for the game. "But our scout team did a very good job."

Villanova led early, 6-4, before Temple went on an 18-4 run and stayed ahead the rest of the way.

"Temple's defensive pressure was very good," Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. "Even when they weren't on us, we rushed a bit and played like we felt they were guarding us close."

To view a slide show from the game, go to http://go.philly.com/photos.EndText

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com. Read his blog at go.philly.com/womhoops.