Villanova vs. Penn score: Quakers upset reigning national champions, end Wildcats' Big 5 streak

Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

Only eight months removed from trimming down the nylon nets in San Antonio following its second national championship in three seasons, Villanova's topsy-turvy encore season again took a surprising downturn on Tuesday.

In its first true road game -- which was hardly a road game at all, considering it was across town at The Palestra -- the reigning national champions fell 78-75 to Penn. They trailed for 36 minutes and 20 seconds of game time, during which it appeared Penn, not Villanova, looked like it was defending a title. Only Penn was protecting home court and 'Nova couldn't so much as crack the armor the Quakers put up.

Though the Wildcats made it a game late, they were out of sorts on both ends of the court for much of the night. They knocked down only 9 of their 26 3-point attempts, lacked the ball movement they've become known for and struggled to stay in front of Penn on defense. Jay Wright threw a man defense and zone defense at them too; neither worked.

Tuesday's result ends Villanova's masterful Big 5 winning streak at 25. (The Big 5 is the informal association referenced between 'Nova, Penn, Temple, Saint Joseph's and La Salle.) It's the longest in the history of the Big 5's 63 years of existence, and a record that almost assuredly won't be replicated over the next 63.

As unlikely a streak, Penn's win was almost equally improbable. The Quakers hadn't beaten a ranked Villanova team in 30 years before Tuesday. It hadn't beaten 'Nova, ranked or unranked, since 2002.

The final outcome is as much a credit to Penn as it is a knock on Villanova. The Quakers are coming off a title of their own by claiming the Ivy League last season and advancing to the NCAA Tournament, and they could be well on their way to replicating that postseason destination in 2019 with their 9-2 start that includes wins over Miami and now Villanova. What Steve Donahue has done in a short time turning around the program is nothing short of remarkable. Penn fans couldn't help themselves by storming the court afterwards, as they should have.

Villanova, meanwhile, won't have an easier path from here. After losing in lopsided fashion to Michigan, the team it took down to win the title earlier this year, it lost to Furman to start 2-2. Now 8-3 and seeking new life, the Wildcats have a fairly short turnaround against Kansas on Saturday.

At Allen Fieldhouse.

The reigning champions will be ready, and if this season of tumult tells us anything, it's that anything can happen come Saturday.

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