This season, very little has come easy for Villanova, which is looking for reasons to suggest it has improved over last year's 13-19 edition but has yet to give conclusive proof.

As its 5-4 record suggests, Villanova has been up and down and the Wildcats showed their two sides in Saturday's night's 68-55 win over Penn (2-7) at the Palestra.

It was the Wildcats' first Big Five win after defeats to La Salle and Temple, while it was the first Big Five game for the Quakers.

"It really was not pretty - but pretty to us," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Give Penn a lot of credit, they played with great energy and have great quickness on the perimeter."

"It comes down to who controls the paint and they did a better job than us," said Penn coach Jerome Allen.

Achraf Yacoubou scored 13 for Villanova, while Ryan Arcidiacono (Neshaminy) added 12. Penn's Miles Cartwright, who hit all 10 of his free throws, had 16 points while Steve Rennard added 12.

This was a gritty Penn team that threw everything at the Cats, including just about the entire roster, with 12 players seeing action in the first half alone.

Villanova finally began pulling away after Penn's Fran Dougherty (Archbishop Wood) cut the Cats' lead to 49-43 with 9 minutes, 10 seconds left.

But the Cats scored the next six points and extended the margin to 55-43 on a reverse layup by JayVaughn Pinkston with 6:19 left.

Penn couldn't get closer than eight points.

In the second half, the Quakers had trouble dealing with the Cats' increased defensive pressure.

Penn started the game trailing 14-2 and went more than eight minutes before scoring its first field goal.

The Quakers missed their first six field-goal attempts and didn't make their first one until 6-foot-7 sophomore Greg Louis hit a foul-line jumper with 11:55 left in the half.

The Quakers got to within 29-27 when Rennard hit two free throws with 1:12 left in the first half.

Villanova then scored the final six points for a 35-27 halftime lead. Yacoubou hit a three-pointer with four seconds left for the final points of the first half.

Villanova may have enjoyed a bigger lead had the Wildcats not missed the front end of three one-an-ones in the first half.

Despite shooting 4 for 17 from the field and 2 for 10 from beyond the arc, Penn was within range.

Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com or @sjnard on Twitter.