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Villanova Wildcats Dominate Paint to Upend La Salle Explorers in Big Five Contest

La Salle's Jerrell Wright picked up his second foul a little more than two minutes after the opening tip. For the next 18 minutes, the Villanova Wildcats took full advantage of the Explorers in the paint.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We might never know what would have happened between La Salle and Villanova had the Explorers' Jerrell Wright not picked up his second foul just two minutes, 30 seconds into the Big Five matchup Wednesday night.

At that time, the score was just 4-2 in favor of Villanova. It still seemed possible that La Salle would give the No. 10 team in the country a run for its money.

But that was a fleeting feeling, one that ended when Wright sat down on the bench, and sat, and sat, and sat some more. After he left, the presence inside wasn't the same, and the Wildcats used it to their advantage to pull away 84-70 over their Philadelphia foes.

Just take one glance at the box score and you can see where this game was won. Without Wright, the Wildcats outscored La Salle 22-10 in the first half in the paint. Every dribble-drive seemed to end in a basket for Villanova, with Dylan Ennis taking advantage.

The Nova guard ended with 15 points and nine assists, mostly coming when he kicked the ball back out after drawing the defense.

But there was no defense for La Salle on this night. The center just couldn't hold and it allowed Villanova to climb to a lead that was impossible to reel in. An 18-point halftime lead was too much to overcome.

With Wright back on the floor, it was a different story. The big man had 19 points, five rebounds and finished with just the two fouls that he committed to start the game. Could he have been the difference? Would his presence on the offensive end in the first half have allowed La Salle to do anything with the ball?

As it was, they had trouble penetrating the Nova defense, which just seemed to suck into the lane at every opportunity and leaving the Explorers to settle, or worse, just give away the ball. Villanova outscored La Salle 21-7 off of turnovers with a gaudy 14-0 margin in the opening 20 minutes.

If there had been another option on offense other than Khalid Lewis, this is a different game. He went 7-for-13 from the floor and had 17 points in the loss.

This is a dangerous La Salle team, but only if all of its starters can stay on the floor beyond the opening four minutes of the game, if only Jerrell Wright can make his presence one that tams have to respect.

Wednesday night, with that presence missing, it was all Wildcats from two minutes in.