PHILADELPHIA -- Back when he first started at Villanova, Jay Wright would walk into the postgame press conference after a Big 5 game, chuckle to himself, smile and shrug.
“That was a typical Big 5 basketball game," he’d say.
That meant it was squirrely and unpredictable, a dogfight from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
He tries to say the same thing now, but the words ring hollow. In the City of Brotherly Love, Villanova is more like the big brother who squeezes his kid brother in a half nelson and gives him a noogie.
The Wildcats not only keep winning -- the 83-67 win against Temple on Wednesday was their 14th City Series win in a row, tying a record that they set from 2004-2007 -- they keep winning easily.
Three years ago, Villanova won its four in-town games by more than 20 points per contest. Last season, the margin of victory was 25, and now this year, the Wildcats waltz off with the crown again having pummeled Saint Joseph’s, La Salle, Temple and Penn by an average of 19.7 points per game.
Wednesday's game was supposed to be the toughest. Temple, winners of five in a row and owners of three top 25 scalps this season, was supposed to give Villanova all it could handle.
With 10:10 to play, the Wildcats led by 23.
Temple mounted a nice challenge late, but then Villanova did that mean big-brother thing again. You know, that thing when your brother stretches out his arm to its full length to palm your forehead and dares you to hit him, except your own arms are too short and you can’t quite connect?
That was the Owls on Wednesday night, reaching and clawing and hitting nothing but air, succumbing eventually to the inevitable double-digit loss.
“We’re proud of where we are and proud of how we’ve done in the Big 5 games," Wright said. “We know how special the Big 5 is in this city."
It hasn’t been this special in a long time; Villanova’s ascent to the No. 1 ranking added a bit of oomph to the rivalry. No one in Philadelphia has stood atop the national polls since 2004, when Jameer Nelson and Saint Joseph’s pulled the trick.
Temple students lined up from two directions at the entrance a good two hours before tipoff, a rarity for a school that has a deep hoops history but doesn't always bring a rabid fan following.
They packed their signs and rollouts, stampeded to their seats as soon as the doors opened and helped give the Liacouras Center a record crowd of 10,472.
The fans even knew who would be the victim of their ire.
Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson is the son of Rick Brunson, a former Temple great. Jalen Brunson included both schools on his final list, but in the end, turned traitor and went to the Main Line instead of North Philly. The fact that his father, who was charged and then acquitted of sexual-assault charges, lost a spot as a would-be Temple assistant did not factor in the decision, according to Jalen.
The Owls fans booed Brunson every time he touched the ball, giving him an earful that was supposed to knock him off his game.
But Brunson proved about as unflappable as Villanova was unstoppable. With Temple concentrating much of its defensive efforts on Villanova's leading scorers, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono -- holding them to a combined 10 points -- Brunson took their available shots.
And made them.
With his dad hiding out in the upper deck of the stands, Brunson sunk 9-of-11 from the field and 4-of-5 from behind the 3-point arc for a career-high 25 points.
As if the loss wasn’t bad enough, watching Brunson, who could've/should've/would've been wearing an Owls uniform, was like throwing a dash of hot sauce on an open wound.
“The great ones want that moment," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “Nothing about his shots was cheap. Every one of the nine he made was a big shot."
People outside of Philadelphia have plenty of questions about Villanova. Skeptics think the Wildcats are simply No. 1 by default. Of course, the same could be same for almost every team that has ascended to the top spot in this topsy-turvy season.
But the cynics have more issues with Villanova than the other teams that have stood atop the rankings. It’s well-earned cynicism based in part on Villanova's recent early NCAA tournament exits, its place in the smaller Big East, and the fact that it lost its two big "national" games this season to Oklahoma and Virginia pretty handily.
Folks inside the Philadelphia limits know better, though. Nobody currently knows Big 5 basketball better than Dunphy. He is two schools away from hitting for the City Series cycle -- he played at La Salle and coached at Penn before coaching at Temple. What he sees this season in Villanova is a team that’s not dissipating anytime soon.
“They’ve got a great rotation, they play smart and they’re tough," he said. “They’re a really good basketball team, a really good basketball program and I’m proud to play against them."