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Temple hopes to break drought against No. 22 Villanova

Villanova will look to capture another Big 5 championship when it hosts local rival Temple on Wednesday.

The 22nd-ranked Wildcats have already won Big 5 games against Philadelphia schools Pennsylvania, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s. They have captured the last seven meetings against Temple, though the two programs didn’t play last season due to COVID-19.

Villanova can earn its Big 5-best 17th outright title with a victory.

The Wildcats (8-4) rallied for a 71-58 win over then-No. 18 Xavier on Dec. 21. While Villanova has played arguably the toughest schedule in the country, it hasn’t appeared to reach top form.

Before beating the Musketeers, Villanova dropped back-to-back games by 20 or more points for the first time in head coach Jay Wright’s 21 seasons on the Main Line.

“They’re young, they’re resilient, they’re confident, they actually inspire us,” Wright said of his players. “Coaches can get negative about every little thing, but the players have been great.”

Villanova, which has won three national championships, including titles in 2016 and ’18, nearly fell out of the Top 25 after the two lopsided losses before knocking off Xavier.

“When we are ranked highly, I always say that it doesn’t matter until really the end of the year,” Wright said. “It’s something that is good for fans, good for the game. I love it. But it really doesn’t have any impact on us.”

Temple will aim for their first win over Villanova since December 2012.

The Owls (7-5) are coming off a resounding 85-48 win over Delaware State on Dec. 22. Freshman Zach Hicks, who had never scored in double figures, put up 35 points, sinking a program-record 10 3-pointers.

Temple is 2-1 in the Big 5 with wins over La Salle and Penn and a loss to Saint Joseph’s. The Owls still have a chance to tie for the Big 5 title with a victory over the Wildcats.

The task will be more difficult without team leader Khalif Battle, who fractured a bone in his left foot against La Salle on Dec. 1. In seven games, Battle was averaging 21.4 points per game, shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 48.8 percent from long distance.

Enter Hicks.

“When teams go zone, it opens the market for threes,” said Hicks, who made 10 of 16 3-point attempts against the Hornets. “I was in rhythm so much that I didn’t see the big men in front of me.”

Temple head coach Aaron McKie said he was stunned by the performance.

“For him to be able to do that, that’s incredible,” McKie said. “It fell for him.”

The Owls will need consistency throughout their lineup if they hope to post an upset. They struggled mightily with 3-point shooting in losses to Saint Joseph’s and UCF, going a combined 5-for-50, before breaking out against Delaware State (14-for-30).

“We just need to do a collective, and each individual has to step their level of play up,” McKie said.

Temple guard Damian Dunn also stepped up with 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists and no turnovers against Delaware State.

–Field Level Media