FOR A LARGE PART of John Chaney's Hall of Fame stay on North Broad Street, his Temple teams won Big 5 games at a little better than an 80 percent clip.
Even in retrospect, that seems borderline ridiculous, given the legendary intensity of these turf battles.
Last night at the Pavilion, Villanova beat a Big 5 opponent for the 18th time in 19 tries, which seems off the charts, especially for a program that at times has been accused of not caring quite enough about the sanctity of the half-century-old City Series.
This time, Temple was the victim, 62-45. Even though Villanova trailed by eight with 14 1/2 minutes to go. Just as the Wildcats had been behind most of the way against Saint Joseph's in this same building on Dec. 11, in their last City Series home game. They won by three that night. This time, they didn't wait. They scored 14 straight, a run that eventually became 23-2, as the Owls went a little more than 11 minutes without a field goal. It felt even longer. All six of their points in that decisive stretch came from the foul line. It wasn't nearly enough.
So Villanova's three seniors became the first class to go 15-1 in Big 5 games.
"It's an honor for us," coach Jay Wright said. "We take great pride in that. After the season's over, we'll talk more about what we accomplished. What this did for us right now is help prepare us for the Big East. But it's of great value to our program.
"You go into every one thinking anything can happen. We just expect that. When I get to talk to them at length about this, I'll talk about it a lot. I think it's big-time. We all know what these games are. It's not always pretty. [Sometimes] it takes a lot of guts."
Or, in this case, a serious dose of sophomore guard Corey Fisher, the team's fourth-leading scorer.
He had 15 points in an 8 1/2-minute span, including three three-pointers, the first two back-to-backers. The second of them put his side ahead for keeps, 33-32, with 12 1/2 minutes to go.
He finished with 23, tying his career high, which he established last season. He made seven of eight shots, going 4-for-4 from the arc, and also had four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 28 minutes.
"Thank God, he got us going," Wright said. "We talk to him all the time about that. We didn't have to tell him this time. He's coachable as hell. That's what we need him to do. He defers too much to the older guys. He has too much respect, which isn't a bad thing."
Fisher played 28 minutes, 17 in the second half. On a night when the rest of the backcourt struggled, he was huge.
"I'm comfortable every game," Fisher said. "Sometimes, you make shots. I'm gaining more confidence. You just have to go out and play hard.
"The important thing is we got the win. My job as a point guard is to run the team. We know every team we play against, they're going to try and shoot down Scottie [Reynolds] and Dante [Cunningham]. Other guys have to make plays. Scottie's always telling me to be more aggressive. I listen to him."
The 15th-ranked Wildcats will take a 12-1 nonconference record into the Big East portion of their schedule, which begins Thursday afternoon at Marquette (11-2).
This was the Owls' third straight loss, all on the road, since a 16-point home win over then-No. 8 Tennessee on Dec. 13.
Temple (5-6) led, 25-22, at the half, but probably should have had more, and would have, if not for Cunningham. He had 10 of Villanova's 22 points. Reynolds had zero on six shots. Corey Stokes and Dwayne Anderson were shut out. Yet somehow, there was very little separation.
Dionte Christmas struggled his way to 13 points, seven below his average, going 4-for-19 from the floor. It was 1-for-12 after intermission. No teammate reached double digits, as the Owls went 6-for-26 in the closing 20 minutes.
Cunningham added only one bucket, while Reynolds finished with eight points. But mostly, everyone got out of the way for Fisher. Wise move.
Villanova extended its Pavilion winning streak to 23 and its winning streak over Temple to four.
"I thought we had some decent looks," said coach Fran Dunphy, Chaney's successor. "Normally, that was good offense for us. We just didn't make shots. A lot of that was because Villanova's defense was very good.
"They did what they needed to do, which is find a way to win the game. And [Fisher] arrived on the scene. He just decided he was going to do something, and he did it."
The Owls are off until Monday, when they'll host Kent State in what will be their third home game. By then, expect newcomer Juan Manuel Fernandez, of Argentina, to at least make an appearance. At some point, he should become a factor. But this time, he was in uniform, but didn't leave the bench.
"They paid more attention to details in the second half," Christmas said. "Not just on me, but everyone. There's going to be nights like that. They made it tough for me.
"When we get leads, we tend to relax a little bit. We need to jump on people's throats."
The Owls' Atlantic 10 opener is Jan. 11, at La Salle. Once again, the rest of the Big 5 is playing for second place. *