PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright led Villanova on a tour around the concourse of the Palestra, the basketball shrine that has served as the hardwood home for many of the game's greats. Wilt Chamberlain played high school ball here. Kobe and LeBron, too.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright led Villanova on a tour around the concourse of the Palestra, the basketball shrine that has served as the hardwood home for many of the game's greats.
Wilt Chamberlain played high school ball here. Kobe and LeBron, too.
There's even a spot dedicated to the greatest Villanova team of all — at least, at the time the display was installed — the 1985 national champions. The Palestra curators might want to clear space for 'Nova's 2016 title team — and maybe even prep a new wing for this year's Wildcats.
Jalen Brunson scored 26 points and Josh Hart had 21 to help No. 1 Villanova hold off La Salle 89-79 on Tuesday night.
"I just wanted to remind them of the history, remind them of the tradition, of what happens in here," Wright said.
La Salle (4-3) came oh-so close to making an upset happen.
Johnnie Shuler and Pookie Powell made late 3-pointers that kept the deficit at seven. La Salle, which has never defeated a No. 1 team, got more late help from long range when Jordan Price popped a 3 that made it a four-point game.
La Salle fans went wild. The Wildcats seemed shaken.
But the great city teams that decorated the 89-year-old walls of the ol' gym nestled on Penn's Ivy League campus don't really lose to unranked underdogs.
And the national champs weren't going down to La Salle.
Donte DiVincenzo's late dunk and a handful of free throws sealed the win for Villanova (9-0) in its first game of the season as the top-ranked team in the country.
Powell scored 27 points. La Salle just didn't have enough to get past Villanova and earn its biggest win since it reached the 2013 Sweet 16.
Brunson, whose father, Rick, starred at Temple, made 10 of 17 shots and hit a pair of big buckets down the stretch to give Villanova a 10-point cushion.
"He's one of those guys that you know at any point that you need a bucket, he can go get one for you," Wright said.
Brunson just might find his image stamped on the Palestra wall a decade or so from now.
"It gave us time to bond," Brunson said of the tour. "We realized what games are played here, what teams played here, who was from the area."
Mikal Bridges scored 16 points and national championship game star Kris Jenkins had 12.
"When the ball's bouncing around, they seem to get it and make a 3," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "The reason for their excellence on a national level is their intangibles. They don't let up. I don't care if they're playing us, playing Kentucky, anybody. That is the same team every single second of every single game they play."
La Salle: The Explorers lost three times to No. 1 teams in the 1950s, once each in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2010s. La Salle last lost to a No. 1 team 90-65 to Kansas on Dec. 12, 2009. They are 0-8 vs. No. 1 foes.
"We just had a lot of lapses and breakdowns," Powell said.
Villanova: The Wildcats went 5-1 as an AP Top 25 No. 1 last season. They were the top team in the country for three weeks and proved they were worthy of the ranking with the program's second national championship. The Wildcats are trying to become the first repeat champs since Florida in 2006-07.
Villanova was 5-1 last season at No. 1 and is trying to better that mark this year to stay in the top spot.
"We didn't really handle it a certain way last year," Hart said.
Villanova continued to dominate the Philadelphia city series known as the Big 5. The Wildcats extended their series-record win streak to 17 against La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph's and Temple. The Wildcats go for the 4-0 sweep Dec. 13 against Temple.
La Salle faces another Big East team Saturday in Georgetown.
Villanova gets its toughest test in weeks when it plays No. 23 Notre Dame in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Follow Dan Gelston on Twitter @APgelston