Villanova, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Big Five rivals get together on Sunday afternoon, as the La Salle Explorers pay a visit to the 10th-ranked Villanova Wildcats.
La Salle struggled during the opening month of the season, going 3-4 in November, but has rebounded to win two in a row, the most recent of which being a 65-57 verdict against Stony Brook in New York City last Saturday. With this contest, the Explorers are facing their second team from the new-look Big East Conference, as they dropped a 71-63 decision to Providence as part of the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas on Nov. 24.
At 9-0 and already with a couple of signature wins on its resume', Villanova is off to its best start since 2009-10. The Wildcats won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament by knocking off USC, Kansas and Iowa, the latter two being ranked teams. Coach Jay Wright's club is facing its third straight Big Five rival today, the 'Cats having recently dismissed both Penn (77-54) and Saint Joseph's (98-68). Villanova opens conference play at Butler on New Year's Eve.
The all-time series between these Philadelphia-area rivals leans in favor of the Wildcats, 35-27. However, it was the Explorers who prevailed in last year's encounter, snapping a 10-game losing streak in the series with a 77-74 decision at Tom Gola Arena. The last two meetings have gone to overtime.
With a record hovering right around .500, it's not surprising to see La Salle putting up nearly the same number of points at it allows (71.6 to 70.3 ppg). The Explorers are being outshot (.435 to .404), and they are converting just 29.5 percent of their 3-point attempts. The team is in the black with regard to rebounding and turnovers, although just barely. La Salle does a nice job taking care of the basketball though, turning it over only 9.9 times per outing. Tyrone Garland (16.3 ppg) is one of four double-digit scores for Dr. John Giannini's squad, and help comes from Tyreek Duren (13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.6 apg), Jerrell Wright (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Steve Zack (10.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg). Wright was on fire in last week's win over Stony Brook, draining 8-of-11 shots to tally 21 points, while Garland added a dozen and Zack logged a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Explorers shot just 35.3 percent from the field, missing 13 of their 17 3-point tries along the way. Fortunately, they outscored the Seawolves at the foul line (25-7) while goading them into 15 turnovers.
Villanova is getting it done at both ends of the court, the team averaging 83.0 ppg while permitting just 65.0 ppg. The Wildcats have scored at least 90 points three times, and are fresh off a 30-point rout of bitter rival Saint Joseph's. VU led by just four at the break (39-35), but exploded for 59 points over the final 20 minutes to keep its perfect record intact. JayVaughn Pinkston paced the team with 27 points, while James Bell put forth a monster effort with career-highs of 25 points and 14 rebounds. Darrun Hilliard tacked on 14 points, and Ryan Arcidiacono produced 11 points and four assists. The Wildcats nailed 12 3-pointers, with Bell going 5-of-10 from distance. Villanova turned the ball over only five times, improving their turnover margin to +3.9 for the season. Pinkston and Bell are neck-and-neck for the team scoring lead, netting 17.8 and 17.6 ppg, respectively, while Hilliard (13.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 apg), Dylan Ennis (10.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Arcidiacono (9.2 ppg, 3.2 apg) have made contributions as well.