Villanova men’s basketball seeks intensity against Temple

The Wildcats, who are ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, are preparing for Temple’s shooting for their Wednesday night matchup at the Liacouras Center.

Junior guard Jalen Brunson drives to the basket against junior center Ernest Aflakpui during Villanova's 78-57 victory against Temple at The Pavilion on Dec. 13, 2016. | EVAN EASTERLING / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After Villanova’s win against La Salle on Sunday, the Wildcats didn’t leave the Wells Fargo Center with a good feeling, redshirt-junior swingman Mikal Bridges said, because the Explorers played harder than them.

Villanova (10-0, 3-0 Big 5) has learned a lot from its game against La Salle leading up to its matchup against Temple on Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center, coach Jay Wright said.

“They outplayed us,” Wright said. “Sometimes that happens. It’s OK if you are honest about it. If you make excuses and don’t learn from it, it’s not OK.”

Villanova, the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, is focused on playing a smarter and more intense brand of basketball against Temple (6-2, 1-1 Big 5) than it did against La Salle. The Wildcats will be playing for their 22nd Big 5 win in a row. Their last Big 5 loss came in a game against Temple at the Pavilion on Dec. 5, 2012.

For the third straight season, Villanova will hold the No. 1 ranking when it faces Temple. The Wildcats held the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for three weeks during the 2015-16 season, had it for seven weeks during the regular season in the 2016-17 campaign and had the top spot in the postseason AP poll.

“To be No. 1, we’ve been there before, but we also know a lot of teams are coming out for us, so we’ve got to be ready to play,” redshirt-junior guard Phil Booth said.

Booth “killed it” from 3-point territory against La Salle, Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. Booth shot 3-for-4 from 3-point range against the Explorers and finished with 18 points to match redshirt-sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo’s team-high total.

Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. drives past redshirt-junior forward Mikal Bridges during Temple’s 78-57 loss against Villanova at The Pavilion on Dec. 13, 2016. | EVAN EASTERLING / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Booth has scored in double figures in five consecutive games, which includes a 20-point performance in the Wildcats’ win against a ranked Gonzaga University squad on Dec. 5.

Booth has started all 10 games and averages 12.7 points per game. A knee injury limited him to just three games last season.

“It’s good to have our leader back, our captain back and just him out there, you know, trying to get back to doing all the little things,” Bridges said.

“Just the rhythm of playing, of practicing every day, getting more confidence, just finding the flow of the game was really what I’ve adjusted to the most,” Booth said. “So since I’ve been finding that, things have been a lot more comfortable for me on the court.”

Booth didn’t play in last year’s matchup with the Owls. With the exception of the four freshmen and redshirt-sophomore guard Trey Lowe, every Owl played in last year’s game against Villanova.

Heading into last season’s Temple-Villanova matchup, sophomore guard Quinton Rose had 10 games of college experience and was averaging 11.1 points per game off the bench. This year, Rose has started every game, averages 17.3 points per game and shoots 50.9 percent from the field.

Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr., is also averaging 17.3 points per game and is shooting 53.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I just think they have too many weapons and they play too well as a team to try to take away certain guys,” Wright said. “I think if you take away certain guys on that team, they’re good enough players, they’re going to find the open man. I think Fran does a great job coaching that team that you got to play them like a team, and you got to respect everybody on their team.”

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