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Villanova on another level

Wildcats remain undefeated with win over Temple

Temple's Devontae Watson (right) fowls Villanova's Dylan Ennis (left). (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)
Temple's Devontae Watson (right) fowls Villanova's Dylan Ennis (left). (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)Read more

LAST SEASON, Villanova swept its Big 5 games by a record 90 points.

Early this month, the Wildcats won by 14 at La Salle. Three days later, they beat Saint Joseph's by twice that much on the Main Line. Yesterday afternoon, once again at the Pavilion, it was another city team's turn to take a shot at the nation's seventh-ranked squad.

Temple had taken three of the previous five meetings, including the last one on Lancaster Avenue, in 2012, its first win at Villanova in a little more than 2 decades.

Not this time. The Wildcats remained unbeaten through their first 10 games with an 85-62 victory.

They'll get Penn at the Palestra in mid-January. Their magic number is 26.

Which begs the question, is the current separation between the programs really this wide?

"Things are [cyclical]," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "We've had older guys the last 2 years. Other teams are young. It makes a big difference in college basketball."

It's part truth, part diplomacy. The reality is, right now his guys are just on another level. And maybe not just in their hometown.

They beat VCU by 24 in Brooklyn, and Illinois by 14 at Madison Square Garden. Only two opponents, Bucknell here and Michigan in New York, have lost to them by single digits.

But it's early. Another reality is, it's not nearly as much about how you're playing in December as about how you're looking in another 6 weeks or so. The Wildcats learned that a year ago, when they put together the best regular season in program history but lost their first game in the Big East Tournament and then were eliminated in their second game of the four-letter tourney.

So which part of that do most folks remember most?

Next up will be a familiar rival from the old Big East days in Syracuse (5-3), Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Last December, Villanova lost by 16 in the Carrier Dome, after leading by 18 in the first half.

You think they remember that?

"For us, a Big 5 game is as big a game as Syracuse," Wright said. "Every game is important, it really is. I could feel the vibe around here for this one. It'll be the same for Syracuse. People love that game. We love to play any time."

His guys, helped by an early 13-0 spurt, led 39-26 at the break. The lead would grow to 24 before the Owls (6-4) scored nine straight to make it a 13-point game with 3:49 left. That forced Wright to call a timeout he probably hadn't been planning on using. The Wildcats scored the next seven and 13 of the last 16.

Sixth man Josh Hart became the first Wildcat to reach 20 points, and he did so in the first 28 1/2 minutes. Darrun Hilliard later joined him by making a late free throw before both went to the bench for good.

"It's nice when a couple of guys get it going," Wright said. "It's good for us to experience that as a team."

It's the first time two Wildcats had 20 since their double-overtime win at Providence in February. They did it four times last season. One of them did so in six other games.

It's just not how they roll.

"They're unselfish," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "They play together."

And they play hard. So when they shoot 27-for-51, 9-for-15 from the arc, it's almost not fair. They also held the Owls to 18-for-52, 4-for-15. Temple's starters went 13-for-44.

"They outworked us," said senior lead guard Will Cummings. "They have a lot of weapons. [Everyone] is capable of doing something."

The Owls will head down I-95 to Delaware on Thursday before hosting Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 22. They'll at least be whole the rest of the way, since transfer guards Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman are finally eligible now that the first semester is over.

Their additions can only be a plus, maybe even significant ones.

"We look forward to having those guys," said Cummings. "We still have to defend and make shots."

The 85 was a season high for Villanova (by one) and a season worst for Temple (by 10).

Quenton DeCosey topped the Owls with 16 but needed 16 shots.

Dylan Ennis, Villanova's leading scorer, had seven, six below his average, after getting a team-best 18 Tuesday against the Illini. Hardly mattered. Neither did the fact that Kris Jenkins, who might be their best deep threat, took two shots. Big men JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu combined for 22 by going 8-for-13 near the basket. That helped open up the perimeter. Hart and Hilliard both were 6-for-7. Hart made all three of his triples. Hilliard missed one of his four. Hart had seven rebounds, the second straight time he's been their high board man.

"Guys did a great job of finding me," said Hart, who had three assists and two steals in 25 minutes. "I was just taking open shots. They happened to fall. I got lucky on a couple of shots.

"You're going to have low points and high points. When the ball goes in, it's a good day."

Added Hilliard, who has been struggling with his jumper: "I had the same confidence I had the past game. I'm just trying to make plays.

"We try to be the hardest-playing team in America. We want to win the next game. Not because we're ranked or we're Villanova. It's as simple as that."

There was no hint of diplomacy in his tone.