Holy War Battle

Villanova, PA - Villanova's last game may have brought the team national attention, but on the local level, few matchups generate as much excitement as the Wildcats' next contest.

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St. Joseph's visits No. 15 Villanova on Thursday for the annual Holy War battle between the Big 5 rivals, as the Wildcats look to avenge last season's lopsided loss while bouncing back from their first defeat of 2008-09.

Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Villanova –9.5 point spread favorites for Thurday’s game against the Saint Joseph’s. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 68% of more than 402 bets for this game have been placed on the Villanova –9.5.

The Wildcats (8-1) were rarely tested during their unbeaten start, but they finally ran into a challenge Tuesday, losing 67-58 to sixth-ranked Texas in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova shot a season-low 38.0 percent against a tough Longhorns defense, going 4-of-18 from 3-point range while getting outrebounded for the first time this season.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We need to play against this type of physical defense and be able to take care of the basketball and still make plays. I think that's what we learned. I also think we have to rebound better as a team. But we can be a good team."

The Wildcats have relied heavily on their own defense this season, limiting opponents to 37.8 percent shooting and holding each foe under 70 points.

However, they struggled offensively Thursday, committing a season-high 19 turnovers. Junior guard Scottie Reynolds, the team's leading scorer last season, shot 2-of-7 from the field and had 10 points.

The primary bright spot for Villanova against Texas was senior Dante Cunningham, who had 23 points and matched a season high with 12 rebounds. Cunningham leads the team with 17.9 points per game after coming into this season with a career average of 7.1.

"Over the summer it was just lots of shooting, understanding coach's offense and trying to be a student of the game," Cunningham said.

The Wildcats hope that will continue to pay off Thursday against their regional rivals, especially after St. Joseph's beat them 77-55 at the Palestra on Feb. 4.

That ended Villanova's three-game winning streak in the series, which features two of the Philadelphia area's top basketball programs, both from Catholic schools about seven miles apart.

Both teams qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2007-08, but St. Joseph's (4-4) lost two of its top three scorers to graduation and has struggled with a difficult early schedule this season. The Hawks also lost to Texas on Nov. 24, with their other defeats coming against Holy Cross, Alabama and Creighton.

Still, they'll be looking for their first back-to-back victories this season after winning 85-64 at Towson on Tuesday.

Forward Ahmad Nivins scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting while point guard Garrett Williamson finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Nivins is shooting 68.8 percent from the field, among the top five in the nation, while Williamson's 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio tops the Atlantic 10.

Guard Darrin Govens added 22 points for coach Phil Martelli's club. Govens had 16 points against Villanova in last season's victory.

The Hawks and Wildcats have split their last six meetings, but St. Joseph's only win in its last six visits to the Pavilion was a 74-67 victory during the Hawks' unbeaten regular season in 2003-04. The Hawks shot 26.0 percent in a 56-39 loss Feb. 6, 2007 in their last visit to Villanova.

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Posted: 12/10/08 11:45 PM ET

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