Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of local rivals step out of conference to complete Big 5 City series play on Saturday afternoon, as the Temple Owls entertain the ninth-ranked Villanova Wildcats.
Temple has not had the nearly success it had hoped it would in its first season as a member of the new-look American Athletic Conference, logging an overall record of 6-13, which includes a dismal 1-7 league ledger. The Owls did however, pick up their first AAC win by knocking off visiting Rutgers on Wednesday night, 88-82. The victory put the brakes on an eight-game slide for coach Fran Dunphy's squad, and was just its second triumph in eight home games this season. Temple is 2-1 in Big 5 action, earning victories over Penn and Saint Joseph's, while suffering a defeat to La Salle.
Villanova was cruising right along at 16-1, but an embarrassing home loss to Creighton on Jan. 20 had some wondering if coach Jay Wright's club was truly worthy of its high national ranking. The Wildcats have responded to win back- to-back games, taking down both Marquette (94-85 OT) and Georgetown (65-60) in the last week to improve to 7-1 in Big East Conference play. Villanova, which is 6-1 as the visitors this season, is 3-0 in Big 5 games, having already taken down Penn (77-54), Saint Joseph's (98-68) and La Salle (73-52) in less than two weeks back in December. The Wildcats last went a perfect 4-0 in the series during the 2009-10 campaign.
Villanova is clinging to a 43-42 lead in the all-time series with Temple, but the Owls have won three of the last four meetings, including a 76-61 decision in December of 2012 at The Pavilion.
With a record as favorable as Villanova's, it's clear the team has performed exceptionally well in nearly all phases of the game. The Wildcats are outscoring the opposition by nearly 13 ppg, while also logging positive differentials in both rebounding (+4.8) and turnovers (+2.5). The team boasts four double-digit scorers, with James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston neck-and- neck in netting 15.1 and 15.0 ppg, respectively. Darrun Hilliard (13.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.8 apg) and Ryan Arcidiacono (10.2 ppg, 3.5 apg) have been effective contributors as well for a VU squad that is outshooting its opponents from the field, but coming up just short from 3-point range.
In the recent win over Georgetown, Bell hit for 16 points and Pinkston and Daniel Ochedu tacked on 12 apiece for the Wildcats, who didn't shoot the ball very well (.400 FG, .318 3-point), and were guilty of 16 turnovers. Fortunately, they forced 18 miscues by the Hoyas, and used a 22-8 edge in points from the foul line to upend their long-time Big East rival.
With four double-digit scorers of their own, the Owls are averaging a solid 75.8 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .445 overall and .363 from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, the trouble starts when they have their backs to the basket, as foes are generating 76.7 ppg in hitting 45.3 percent of their total shots, which includes a 34.7 percent showing from downtown. A -3.6 rebounding margin has hurt, and simply put, Dunphy's troops are still trying to figure out their place among the better teams in the AAC. Dalton Pepper (18.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.3 apg) has settled in as the team's top scorer, while performing well in others areas, as has fellow starters Will Cummings (16.5 ppg, 4.2 apg), Quenton DeCosey (15.6 ppg, 2.2 apg) and Anthony Lee (14.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg).
Temple hit all eight of its free throws down the stretch to push its way past Rutgers and earn its first American Athletic Conference win. The Owls got 21 points from Cummings and 20 from Pepper, with the former also adding a career- high eight assists. Lee and DeCosey tacked on 15 points apiece, with the former spearheading the team's rebounding effort with eight caroms. The Owls committed just six turnovers, their second-fewest of the season, while Rutgers turned the ball over 13 times. As a result, Temple outscored the Scarlet Knights off turnovers, 24-8. The Owls shot 52.5 percent from the floor, and went 20-of-25 at the charity stripe, and they scored 42 points in the paint, compared to 22 for the visitors.