Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Taking a break from the respective league schedules, Big Five rivals Villanova and Penn square off at The Palestra on Saturday night.
Villanova is the fifth-ranked team in the country, as it has won 16 of its first 17 games, the lone blemish being a 66-61 setback at Seton Hall on Jan. 3 in its second Big East Conference game of the campaign. The Wildcats have won three in a row since, the latest being an 88-75 verdict versus visiting Xavier on Wednesday. At 4-1 in conference, Villanova is in first place in the Big East, although five teams sit tied for second at 3-2.
Penn has played 12 games to this point, losing twice as often as it has won (4-8), and it has dropped its only Ivy League bout, falling at Princeton last Saturday in a 78-74 final. The Quakers, who bounced back to win at Niagara this past Tuesday to stop a three-game losing streak, are just 1-3 at home this season.
Villanova owns a commanding 44-17 lead in the all-time series with its local rival, and that includes victories in each of the last 11 meetings.
Villanova drained a season-high 15 3-pointers and converted 17-of-19 free throws to thwart the upset bid of the Xavier Musketeers earlier this week. Ryan Arcidiacono led the Wildcats with 18 points, while Dylan Ennis added 17 and Josh Hart contributed 15 points in the winning effort. With Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard being credited with six assists apiece, the 'Cats finished with a season-high 24 helpers on 28 field goals. They also committed a season- low five turnovers.
While he wasn't one of the top few scorers for Villanova against Xavier, Hilliard continues to pace the team on the season with his 13.3 ppg. Ennis (10.8 ppg), Hart (10.4 ppg) and JayVaughn Pinkston (10.4 ppg) round out the double-digit scorers for coach Jay Wright's club, although Daniel Ochefu (9.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Arcidiacono (8.9 ppg, 4.4 apg) are close to joining the ranks, as the Wildcats generate 77.8 ppg in hitting 47.6 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a 36.1 percent showing beyond the arc. The team's defensive effort yields 61.4 ppg, with foes shooting just 40.8 percent from the floor, with only 29.8 percent of their long-range launches finding the bottom of the net. VU goads the opposition into 15.3 turnovers per contest.
Tony Hicks scored 18 points, Greg Louis had a dozen and Matt Howard pitched in 11, all of which Penn needed to knock off Niagara earlier in the week. The Quakers shot just 40.8 percent from the floor, missing the mark on 11 of their 15 3-point tries, but they held the Purple Eagles to just 32.1 percent field goal efficiency, which included misses on 13 of their 17 perimeter shots. Penn won the battle on the boards, 41-33, while also converting 23 of its 28 free throws.
Penn has had problems at both ends of the court this season, as it generates just 65.8 ppg while permitting close to 70 ppg. Hicks is netting 14.9 to pace the club, and his 42 assists also lead the way. Unfortunately, his 45 turnovers are nearly twice as many as his closest teammate, the team as a whole committing an unsightly 17.2 miscues per outing. Darien Nelson-Henry (11.2 ppg) is the only other double-digit scorer for the Quakers at the moment, and he spearheads the team's rebounding effort with 6.3 rpg.