By Sally Fahey
It’s only Dec. 4, so it’s a little early to place too much importance on a Big 5 game.
But for Villanova, there’s the payback incentive tonight when the 23rd-ranked Cats host Penn.
Villanova improved to 5-2 with its 83-72 win over La Salle Sunday in the first of four Big 5 games.
The Wildcats had their 25-game Big 5 winning streak snapped last season by the Quakers, 78-75, at the Palestra.
“They just did a better job at halftime with their adjustments and we didn’t respond very well,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said after the 11-point win over the Explorers. “That’s part of being a young team. This was the first Big 5 game for some of these guys. We’ve got another tough one coming up Wednesday.”
The young Wildcats have two freshmen — Justin Moore and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — in the starting lineup for the first time since 2002. Moore had arguably his best all-around game this season against La Salle with 25 points and five steals. Sophomore Saddiq Bey had 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Though the Wildcats built a 20-point lead, they had to fight off a late charge from La Salle. Every season, Wright points to the Big 5 games as some of the most difficult they’ll have all season.
“I thought we played a good first half and they just came out and really took it to us in the second half. We hung on,” Wright said. “With these Big 5 games, you just try to survive them. It’s never pretty. You just try to survive and that’s what that was.”
Penn (5-3) will enter this Big 5 battle following a successful trip to the West Coast in which it defeated Long Beach State 95-79 on Sunday in the third-place game of the Wooden Legacy.
The Quakers won two of three in the tournament.
Senior forward AJ Brodeur extended his double-figure scoring streak to 33 games with a late dunk against the Beach. Brodeur also added nine assists, following a 10-assist game against an Arizona team that was ranked No. 14 at the time.
Freshman standout Jordan Dingle led Penn in scoring with 21 points. In eight career games with the Quakers, Dingle has four 20-point games.
“It’s been a great tournament for us,” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said. “But more importantly for these guys, it’s another chance to be together for six days and really get to have fun with each other. Hopefully that builds your team going forward and get you prepared outside the basketball part of it.”
The only game Penn lost in the tournament came against Arizona, which will help when they face a ranked Villanova team. Brodeur already has shown that he is comfortable with high-level competition.
“(Brodeur) allows us to compete with Arizona,” Donahue said. “If we don’t have him, we don’t compete with Arizona, let alone (Villanova) and hopefully the really good teams in our league that we have to play this year.”
Brodeur knows what it’s like to defeat Villanova. He also knows it will be a daunting challenge to accomplish the feat again.
“We’re going to have to play like we did in the second half for 40 minutes going forward,” Brodeur told the Daily Pennsylvanian. “I don’t think we’ve played a complete game yet in our season and that’s going to have to change when we go forward.”