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Philadelphia,Pa - Villanova was fortunate to come out ahead in its most recent contest against a fellow Big 5 opponent.

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The 15th-ranked Wildcats hope for an easier time while trying for a seventh straight victory over city rival La Salle on Sunday night at Tom Gola Arena.

Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Villanova –8 point spread favorites for Thurday’s game against the Saint Joseph’s. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 51% of more than 275 bets for this game have been placed on Villanova –8.

Villanova (9-1) came through late at the free-throw line in its 59-56 victory over St. Joseph's on Thursday for its 16th victory in its last 17 Big 5 games. The Wildcats beat Pennsylvania 69-47 on Dec. 2 and host Temple on Dec. 29 to close out play in the annual contests between Philadelphia's five Division I programs.

The Wildcats are 31-26 all-time against La Salle (4-3), which hasn't won a game in this series since a 61-58 overtime victory in 2001 during Jay Wright's first season guiding Villanova.

One game after falling 67-58 to No. 6 Texas at Madison Square Garden, Villanova overcame a 42-percent shooting night by going 14-for-16 at the free-throw line against St. Joseph's in a game that likely won't be forgotten by fans of Big 5 basketball.

"That's what everybody pays for. That's what everybody remembers of a Big 5 game,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "That was a classic. As a fan, I loved them. As a coach, I don't love the classics.''

The Wildcats overcame a nine-point halftime deficit by outscoring the Hawks 33-21 in the second half. Scottie Reynolds sank a free throw with 4.8 seconds left to give Villanova a 59-56 lead, and Dante Cunningham clinched the victory with two more free throws.

"That's the greatest thing you can give a player is the ball in your hands at the end of the game,'' said Reynolds, who had 18 points and six assists. "It's the best thing you can give a player.''

Cunningham added 14 for the Wildcats, who might be able to get things going on the offensive end after scoring fewer than 70 points in three of their last four games. Though La Salle has won three in a row, it's allowing 70.0 points per game.

Reynolds scored 19 points and Cunningham had 12 and 12 rebounds in last season's 71-58 victory over La Salle.

The Explorers enter their first Big 5 contest of the season after a 70-64 victory at Hartford on Dec. 6. Rodney Green, Kimmani Barrett and Ruben Guillandeaux each scored 14 points as La Salle shot a season-high 51.1 percent.

Green is the team's leading scorer at 13.9 points per game, while Barrett has played well of late averaging 15.0 points on 47.1 percent shooting in his last four contests.

Green and Barrett combined for 21 points in last season's loss to Villanova as the Explorers shot 38.2 percent from the field.

La Salle has lost 11 consecutive contests versus Top 25 teams since beating then-No. 18 St. Joseph's 91-90 on March 3, 2001.

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Posted: 12/14/08 12:55 PM ET

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