No. 4 Villanova looks to stay unbeaten vs. La Salle

PHILADELPHIA — Fourth-ranked Villanova will attempt to improve to 10-0 while winning its 21st consecutive Big 5 game when it hosts La Salle on Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats, who have already routed Big 5 foes Penn and Saint Joseph’s, are fresh off an 88-72 victory over No. 12 Gonzaga on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova was led by junior Mikal Bridges, who scored a career-high 28 points on 8-of-14 shooting, anchored by a highlight-reel, one-handed dunk on one end followed by a blocked shot at the defensive end.

“It was just me being aggressive,” Bridges told reporters. “I saw a lane and tried to go up and be strong. Ever since my freshman year I would go up and lay the ball up a lot. The coaches and the seniors used to get on me for that. I’m just trying to mature as a player. Defense is the main thing. I was just trying to make a play (on that sequence).”

The Wildcats started 9-0 for the second straight season and they also received a major boost from junior guard Phil Booth in the win over Gonzaga.

Booth tied his career high with 20 points, originally set in the NCAA championship game against North Carolina in 2016. He missed all but three games in 2016-17 due to a left knee injury that resulted in a medical redshirt.

During the last three games, Booth has connected on 20 of 31 shots while averaging 17.0 points, 3.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds.

Villanova believes it can perform at an even higher level, however.

“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Bridges said. “If we relax just because we’re playing well now, teams will get us. We have to go hard at practice every day and get better every day.”

Wildcats coach Jay Wright is 14-2 all time against the Explorers and this will be the first time Villanova has hosted a Philadelphia Big 5 game at the Wells Fargo Center since 2002.

La Salle is coming off a disappointing 72-70 loss to Drexel on Thursday night at Tom Gola Arena. Senior B.J. Johnson had 21 points and 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season, but the Explorers fell to 5-5.

Junior Pookie Powell added 16 points for La Salle, which suffered the loss against a short-handed Drexel team that had only seven healthy players.

“I was surprised at how little energy we had tonight and how quickly we fatigued,” La Salle coach John Giannini told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Drexel outrebounded La Salle 41-27 and shot 53 percent from the field, and the Explorers held a 20-6 advantage in bench scoring. It wasn’t quite enough.

Giannini said that he was frustrated with the loss, especially at home.

“There was nothing in this game that I was not surprised by,” he said. “It was a disappointing loss for us and a great win for Drexel.”

La Salle’s last victory (77-74) over Villanova came Nov. 25, 2012. Villanova won 89-79 last season at the Palestra.