After 40 minutes that were as much about sweat as strategy, Villanova earned its fourth perfect Big 5 season in 6 years. The Wildcats put up 39 points in each half and they were just enough to win it, 78-74.
Temple did enough good things to beat most teams, just not this team on its home court where the 'Nova seniors have never lost. The Owls were so sharp with their shooting in the first half that they scored 40 points on the 24 possessions when they got up a shot. The problem was those eight turnovers. Despite shooting 57.1 percent at the break, the Owls led by just a single point.
"They really didn't let us run a lot of offense," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "We talked about it in the huddle. It came down to making basketball plays and we didn't make enough of them."
The Wildcats' 1-2-2 three-quarter-court trap made Temple throw the ball in the wrong places a few too many times. At times, it must have seemed as though Villanova had six defenders, because two players were always jumping the ball.
Eventually, that wears on you. Which is probably why Temple shot just 30.3 percent in the second half. When they watch the tape, Temple's ballhandlers will see that if they had just dribbled the ball to the wing and tried to enter it from there, Lavoy Allen might have had a second-half field day. Instead, he was just pretty good instead of great down the stretch.
It was accelerator to the floor against cruise control.
"I thought both teams showed great character," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Both teams just wouldn't give in."
Most teams are done when Villanova goes on one of those 10-0 second-half runs at home. Instead, Temple scored 13 straight.
Leads of any kind could not be celebrated because they never lasted long. Little plays made big differences.
Corey Fisher stripped Ramone Moore at halfcourt. Instead of pouting, Moore chased down Fisher and blocked his shot at the rim.
If you want to know why Villanova has won all these Big 5 games and all those other games in recent seasons, watch the tape of Corey Stokes' effort with 3:14 left in the game. Allen was wide-open for a slam. Stokes flew across court and fouled him. Allen made just one of two. The Wildcats saved a point, a point that could have made the difference between winning and losing.
"We've got a lot of heart," Stokes said.
They do. He does.
Stokes (24 points) made many of the biggest shots. The ones that he did not make, Maalik Wayns (21 points) did.
Maybe, if Temple does not miss 10 free throws, the Owls are still playing. But they did so they are not.
"They're big and strong," Temple point guard Juan Fernandez said. "We were not really that much prepared against that full-court press."
And he said he "could have made better decisions at the end."
Why didn't he?
Fernandez cited the ball pressure and that he started to tire.
Which was the idea from the Villanova side.
Exactly 2 years ago, Fernandez saw his first Big 5 game from the same bench Temple occupied last night. He had just arrived in the country from Argentina.
"I had been here for 3 days only and I was a little bit nervous," Fernandez said. "It was my first college experience."
Did he want to play that night?
"To be honest, I don't know if I was really ready," Fernandez said.
He is ready now. He had 33 against the Wildcats last season, 20 last night.
"I told Dunph after the game they are going to have a great year," Wright said.
He is right, of course. Temple still looks like the class of the Atlantic 10. The Owls will not face defensive pressure like they faced last night anywhere in the A-10, so they are more than prepared for 2011.
"They pressured us and we didn't handle it as well as we needed to," Dunphy said.
And they won't be the last team to feel the Wildcats' fire. They come early. And they never really stop coming. It is the personality of the program under Jay Wright.
"We hadn't played really well against a really good team," Wright said. "We wanted to see."
He saw it. They saw it on ESPN2. They saw it in the gym last night. And everybody will see it quite a bit more in 2011.
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