Holy War (Villanova vs. St. Joe's)

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The Holy War
Teams Saint Joseph's Hawks
Villanova Wildcats
Originated January 15, 1921
Series Villanova leads, 47–25
Most Recent Winner Villanova
Trophy None

The Holy War is a basketball rivalry game in the Philadelphia Big 5 between Saint Joseph's University and Villanova University, which is considered the most intense of all the Big 5 games. It's called the "Holy War" because both universities have Roman Catholic religious affiliations: Villanova University is Augustinian, and Saint Joseph's University is run by the Jesuit order. Recent games between the two schools have been played either at the Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania when Saint Joseph's hosts the game, or at The Pavilion when Villanova is the host. However, the Hawks hosted the Wildcats at the newly expanded Hagan Arena on Saint Joseph's campus on December 17, 2011 and will continue to do so in future years.

Villanova leads the all-time series, 47–25 and 36–25 as members of the Big 5. Don DiJulia, athletic director at Saint Joseph's has called the rivalry the "Army-Navy of basketball".[1]

History of the programs[edit]

Category Hawks Wildcats
NCAA Championships 0 2
NCAA Championship Appearances 0 3
Players with All-America Honors 10 22
NBA Draft Picks 29 46
Naismith Coach of the Year 1 2
NCAA Final Fours 1 5
Elite Eights 3 13
Sweet Sixteens 7 17
NCAA Tournament Berths 21 37
NCAA Tournament Wins 19 57
NIT Championships 0 1

The Origin of the Series, Prior to the Formation of the Big Five[edit]

Villanova played SJU (then St. Joseph's College) twice, during the Wildcats' first ever season on the hardwood, which took place during the 1920–21 school year. The first contest took place on January 15, 1921, on the Main Line, with 'Nova winning 31–22. In the return game, Villanova completed the sweep by prevailing 24–14. The teams clashed often during the 1920s, but after the 1930 game, the series lay dormant for a long time. In the ensuing quarter-century, the only meeting was in 1939.[2] Villanova had won eleven of the twelve meetings since the first game took place in 1921, until the formation of the Big Five in the 1955–56 season.

Beginning of Big Five rivalry[edit]

When the Big Five got rolling, it was SJU's turn to dominate the series for the next decade before Villanova turned the tide. The Hawks won the first six City Series games and ten of the first twelve. The two schools had the honor of clashing in the first-ever Big Five contest at the Palestra, on December 14, 1955– St. Joe's won, 83–70. Starting with the 1958 game, every single VU/SJU game attracted a sellout or near-sellout crowd at the Palestra, with the high attendance continuous for all games since then, regardless of venue. The attendance for the 1957 game climbed to 5,659, but since then the Palestra was packed to the rafters for Villanova/St. Joe's.[3] Villanova now leads the series 37–25 since both schools became members of the Big Five.

Modern era match-ups[edit]

February 20, 1971/March 13, 1971—In Villanova's second-greatest season, the Porter-led Wildcats will go 23–6 and reach the NCAA championship game before bowing to John Wooden's UCLA dynasty. But en route, they meet St. Joe's twice in one season, for the first time since 1923. In the City Series game, Villanova triumphs 63–55, although Hawks center Mike Bantom outplays Howard Porter. The schools would meet again at the Palestra, in the first round of the NCAA tournament (the only time, before or since, the Holy War has extended to postseason play). 'Nova won in a rout, 93–75.

February 19, 1977—The first City Series game away from the Palestra, as the Villanova/St. Joe's game goes to the Spectrum, to accommodate more fans for both schools. The Wildcats win 92–78, in front of 12,138 fans.

February 22, 1983—In the second Spectrum game in the series, a record throng of 18,060 witnesses a 70–62 Wildcat victory, the most to ever witness a Holy War.

February 19, 1985—It was the annus mirabilis (in Latin, the "year of miracles") on the Main Line. And perhaps the basketball gods' first sign of favor took place at the Spectrum, in the Holy War. Villanova entered the game having lost three in a row, while the Hawks had won nine straight. Villanova was 3–0 in City Series play, but SJU was 1–1 and could pursue a share of the Big Five title with a victory over the 'Cats. 'Nova started the game on a 9–2 run, but by halftime the Hawks had overtaken them, 22–19. St. Joe's led 30–23 with 14:18 to go, before 'Nova rallied. Ed Pinckney connected on two free throws to draw the Wildcats even at 44 with 3:08 to play. SJU nearly succeeded in holding the ball for three minutes to take the last shot. Dwayne McClain rebounded the errant St. Joe's shot with only four seconds to go. On the inbounds play, McClain hit an 18-footer and was fouled. By converting the three-point play, McClain gave Villanova a 47–44 victory- and the outright Big Five title for the first time since 1967.

December 18, 1994—The Holy War, now taking place every other year due to Villanova's 1991–99 withdrawal from the full round-robin, returns to the Palestra for the first time in over six years. #22 Villanova – at the apex of the Kerry Kittles era – is a heavy favorite over a St. Joe's squad. (The Hawks hadn't reached postseason play since 1986.) But Dmitri Domani hits two key free throws down the stretch, to give St. Joe's a 60–57 upset victory.

December 11, 2000—The Holy War returns to the Palestra. St. Joe's comes close to its long-denied victory over the Wildcats, leading 39–32 at intermission. O'Connor dazzles with 32 points on 11–17 shooting to lead the Hawks. But 'Nova rallies in the second half to come away with a hard-fought, thrilling 78–75 victory. Michael Bradley has a field day in the paint, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Reggie Bryant and Aaron Matthews add 13 for the 'Cats.

February 2004—The #3 Hawks entered the Pavilion with a record of 18–0. They would eventually garner a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and reach the Elite Eight. The Wildcats fell to Hawks 74–67. Jameer Nelson and Delonte West combined for 45 points. Mike Nardi led the Wildcat counterattack with 16 points and five assists. A three-pointer from Andreas Bloch cut the Hawk lead to 54–50, with less than nine minutes to play, but that was as close as 'Nova came to an upset.

December 2012—The Hawks were leading the Wildcats in the second half of the game at the Pavilion, when St. Joe's Junior Forward Halil Kanacevic drained a 3-pointer with 10 minutes left in the game. He then raised a double-middle-finger to the Villanova Student Section, thrusting "Nova Nation" into wild uproar. The students loudly booed Kanacevic throughout the rest of the game, and Kanacevic proceeded to blow the game for St. Joe's down the stretch with a series of bad plays and fouls; most notable of these was a pair of missed free throws with 45 seconds left in the game, and a turnover with 3 seconds left in the game, costing St. Joe's a chance to tie the game late. Kanacevic finished the game with only the 3 points he scored before flipping the bird, and was slapped with a 2-game suspension by St. Joe's for his actions.

Recent history[edit]

Phil Martelli, St. Joes' Head Coach since 1995 is 5–15 against Villanova. Since 2001–02 season, Jay Wright and Villanova leads the recent series over Saint Joseph's 11–4:

January 28, 2002: @ The Pavilion: Villanova 103 St Joseph's 73
February 3, 2003: @ The Palestra: Saint Joseph's 92 Villanova 75
February 2, 2004: @ The Pavilion: Saint Joseph's (#3) 74 Villanova 67
February 7, 2005: @ The Palestra: Villanova (#22) 67 Saint Joseph's 52
February 6, 2006: @ The Palestra: Villanova (#4) 71 Saint Joseph's 58
February 6, 2007: @ The Pavilion: Villanova 56 Saint Joseph's 39
February 4, 2008: @ The Palestra: Saint Joseph's 77 Villanova 55
December 11, 2008: @ The Pavilion: Villanova 59 Saint Joseph's 56
December 9, 2009: @ The Palestra: Villanova (#3) 97 Saint Joseph's 89
December 3, 2010: @ The Pavilion: Villanova (#12) 71 Saint Joseph's 60
December 17, 2011: @ Hagan Arena: Saint Joseph's 74 Villanova 58
December 11, 2012: @ The Pavilion: Villanova 65 Saint Joseph's 61
December 7, 2013: @ Hagan Arena: Villanova (#14) 98 Saint Joseph's 68
December 6, 2014: @ The Pavilion: Villanova (#10) 74 Saint Joseph's 46
December 1, 2015: @ Hagan Arena: Villanova (#8) 86 Saint Joseph's 72