Villanova tops Temple in a Philly showdown

Villanova wanted to ring out the old and ring in the new with a touch of vengeance while setting aside notions it had done little so far to deserve its No. 8 ranking.

Temple was looking to dress up its resumé for the NCAA tournament selection committee by making the Wildcats their third victim from the Big East Conference.

Everyone else was in Villanova's Pavilion on Thursday night for the thrill of watching the city's two best teams go at it, and they got what they wanted.

In a back-and-forth game in which both teams played in fits and starts, Villanova (11-1) had a little more when it counted most to take a 78-74 decision. The victory gave the Wildcats the unofficial city championship with a 4-0 Big Five record.

Afterward, Wildcats coach Jay Wright said the No. 25 Owls (9-3) presented his team with a chance to show it is ready for the grind of the Big East.

"This was perfect timing for this game, besides the possibility it would ruin New Year's Eve," Wright said after Villanova won its 43d consecutive game at the Pavilion.

"Going into this game we hadn't really played well against a really good team, so we wanted to see where we are, and it's great having this going into the Big East. That was definitely like a Big East game. There were Big East refs, and they let us play, and they're as good defensively as any Big East team."

It was the first time Villanova and Temple met as nationally ranked teams since 1988, when the No. 1 Owls defeated the No. 10 Wildcats.

On a night when senior guard Corey Fisher was held to one basket, his backcourt mate, Maalik Wayns, compensated with one of the best games of his young career. The sophomore guard from Roman Catholic scored 21 points, handed out eight assists, and had four steals in 35 minutes.

After the Owls knocked off the Wildcats last December, Wayns indicated he caught an earful from some of the Philly players at Temple.

"I grew up with a lot of those guys, and I know those guys from high school," Wayns said. "Last year they had the bragging rights for the whole year. And now I get to brag back to them, but it was a great win for our whole team."

Villanova employed a three-quarter-court zone press through much of the first half, but it didn't prevent Temple from efficiently running its offense. The Owls led at the half, 40-39, on 12-for-21 shooting. Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez combined for 25 first-half points. Moore was the best player on the floor the first 20 minutes. But that all changed in the second half, when Moore was held to 1-for-12 shooting.

"I think they toughened up defensively," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "Certainly toward the end they didn't let us get any dribble penetration. I thought we made some poor decisions with the ball. But I thought their defense was very, very good at the end of the game. They pressured us, and we didn't handle it very well."

'Nova opened the second half with a surge, and it was Wayns and 6-foot-10 Mouphtaou Yarou who were the central characters. Yarou broke a 45-all tie with a dunk followed by a free throw, inducing a third foul on 6-9 Lavoy Allen, Temple's defensive pillar in the lane. In a blink, the Wildcats had a 57-47 lead and appeared ready to take control of the game.

Temple came out of a time-out and went on a 13-0 run for a 60-57 lead. But that was the only stretch of the second half in which the Owls sustained any offense. They shot 10 for 33 over the final 20 minutes. After Corey Stokes broke a 62-62 deadlock with his fifth three-point shot, Temple never regained the lead, missing free throws and straining to get clean looks at the basket.

"I told Dunph after the game they're going to have a great year," Wright said. "That was a good win for us. Their kids are so classy. During the game they want to kill each other, but after the game they're all so classy. I think both programs have a lot of respect for each other."

 


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.