With junior guard Donnaizha Fountain out with a knee injury and no specific timetable to return, Temple had to replace her 14.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference tournament game against Houston.
Senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald rose to the occasion. She scored a season-high 30 points, which set an American Athletic Conference tournament record.
Despite a slow start, Temple, ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, picked up a 67-58 win against Houston at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
“We’re just trying to win games to keep our hopes alive,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I think pretty much, this might solidify us in the NCAAs, but we’re just trying to position ourselves for a higher seed.”
With seven minutes, 38 seconds to go in the first half, Fitzgerald made a well-timed lead pass to junior guard Tanaya Atkinson. She scooped it up and put it in for an easy layup that put the Owls up by three. Fitzgerald went 5-for-12 from the field in the first half and 1-for-6 from 3-point range, but shot 5-of-9 in the second half.
“At the beginning, I was a little cold and my shots weren’t falling, so I had to find another way to help my team,” Fitzgerald said. “Whether it was finding an open teammate or getting to the basket, and suddenly my shots started falling, so I shooting the ball and doing what I had to do to help my team win the game.”
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme projected the Owls to be a seven seed in the NCAA tournament prior to Saturday’s win. The Owls (24-6, 13-3 The American), advanced to the semifinal round in the conference tournament where they will play South Florida, which beat Southern Methodist 62-55 on Saturday. Temple split its two games against the Bulls, who received 12 votes in the most recent AP Poll, in the regular season.
Along with Fitzgerald, junior guard Alliya Butts and Atkinson helped lead the charge for Temple.
Butts scored 19 points, shooting 4-for-9 from 3-point range. Atkinson finished with five turnovers and several missed layups. She still contributed 16 points and 12 rebounds in the win, recording her 10th double-doubles this season. Atkinson leads The American and is eighth in Division I with 4.4 offensive rebounds per game.
Senior forward Ruth Sherrill pulled in a game-high 15 rebounds and scored two points.
“Fey, Tanaya, and Alliya, when you look at the stats sheet, they had all but two of the points, but that’s not to discredit what Ruth did,” Cardoza said. “Ruth had 15 rebounds, Safiya was huge with four blocks, so everyone did their job.”
Temple outrebounded Houston 40-33 and pulled in four more offensive rebounds than the Cougars’ 11. Temple’s aggression on the boards led to 18 second-chance points.
“We talked about how they like to really get out and run and we were going to send only certain guys to the boards, and those certain guys got the boards,” Cardoza said. “Even the shots that we missed, they were all good shots, they just weren’t falling for us, so we had to make sure that we got ourselves second chance opportunities.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca. Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews and @TTN_Sports.