Corey Stokes is working hard on establishing an all-around game, learning how to drive with the basketball and pull up for the jumper, and working on becoming a reliable defender.

But Stokes attracted the interest of Villanova and other teams around the country because of his ability to hit a three-point shot, and the Wildcats can be awfully tough when he does that.

Stokes sank four three-point shots last night, with three of them sparking a 20-1 first-half surge as the 15th-ranked Wildcats rolled to a 70-59 victory over La Salle in a Big Five game before a sellout crowd of 4,000 at Tom Gola Arena.

Stokes, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, finished with a game-high 18 points for Villanova (10-1 overall, 3-0 Big Five). His 4-of-7 night from beyond the arc improved his three-point percentage for the season to 49.2 (32 of 65).

Villanova coach Jay Wright knows what Stokes can do well. What he likes is seeing him try to advance his game to a higher level.

"He hit a big drive toward the end of the game," Wright said. "He took the ball off the dribble a couple of times to the rim. He's really improving, and I like that he's improving defensively, too.

"Near the end, we made a substitution and put him in for defense. That's a new role for him. So he's learning and he's really getting to be a better player."

Asked about the defensive role, Stokes smiled.

"That's a great feeling, coming from Coach Wright, putting me in for defense," he said. "That's going to be a bigger role through the season for me and I'm looking forward to it."

The Wildcats appeared as if they were in for a battle last night. The Explorers (4-4, 0-1) hit eight of their first 12 shots and led by 18-16 midway through the first half before 'Nova increased its intensity at both ends of the court.

The Wildcats held La Salle without a field goal for a span of 6 minutes, 28 seconds while knocking down 8 of 10 shots from the field, 4 of 5 from three-point territory. Stokes nailed three long balls, with the final one giving the Cats a 36-19 lead with 4:13 remaining.

Wright credited the defense of bench players Shane Clark and Reggie Redding with holding the Explorers to 0-for-7 shooting with two turnovers. Clark had come on for Dante Cunningham, the team's leading scorer, who sat out the final 12:52 of the half with two fouls.

"They really gave us incredible energy," Wright said. "Both teams were kind of battling and these two guys came in fresh. We were able to rest our starters. Getting through the half with Dante with two fouls was huge for us."

La Salle coach John Giannini didn't like the view too well from his bench during the Villanova run.

"We had turnovers, we had a substitution or two that didn't go well for us, we lost people in transition," Giannini said. "To their credit, they found the open guy. They were good enough to find Stokes in transition and he made the shots."

Villanova led by 36-26 at the half and managed to keep a double-figure margin for practically the entire second half by shooting 54 percent from the field. The Explorers were held to 35.5 percent over the same period but outrebounded 'Nova, 23-12.

Giannini was disappointed at his team's inability to handle the basketball. The Explorers had nine assists and 15 turnovers, while the Wildcats had 20 assists - six each by Antonio Pena and Corey Fisher - against just eight miscues.

"We aren't a good passing team," Giannini said. "It's something we absolutely have to address. . . . It hasn't hurt us as much as it did in this game. I've never had a team work harder, but we have to get better at it."

Scottie Reynolds chipped in with 13 points for the Wildcats, who got nine points from Cunningham, the first time this season he wasn't in double figures. Kimmani Barrett and Rodney Green scored 16 points each to lead La Salle.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494