Senior forward Ari Moore has never been branded as a perimeter shooting threat. She had only hit three of 32 three-point attempts entering this season.
Moore matched that total Sunday, when she hit three triples to power the No. 16 women’s basketball team (24-3, 16-0) over Saint Joseph’s, 69-46.
Moore, this week’s Big 5 Player of the Week, paced the Owls with 15 points, five rebounds, and two steals. Shooting three-pointers has two incentives, she said after the game.
“When I take an outside shot, it’s harder to cover Candice [Dupree] in the paint. It opens her up a lot more because they can’t double-team her.”
Dupree was forced to the bench with two fouls in the game’s first five minutes. With Dupree off the court, St. Joe’s went on an 8-2 run to cut the Owls’ lead to 19-16. The Hawks (6-22, 4-12) exploited the low post, driving into the lane with ease in Dupree’s almost 10-minute long absence.
“We didn’t expect Candice to be sitting as much as she did,” coach Dawn Staley said. “But every time we take the floor, we are confident in our bench. I’m very comfortable with Khadija [Bowens] and Ashley [Morris].”
Bowens and Morris each scored six of the Owls’ 18 bench points.
With the win, the Owls swept the city series and clinched the Big 5 title. They finished the regular season on a 21-game win streak, with an undefeated record in Atlantic Ten Conference play.
THE ROAD TO THE TITLE
The Owls head to the nation’s capital this weekend for the A-10 tournament at George Washington’s Charles E. Smith Center. Staley’s squad is the regular-season A-10 East Division champion, earning a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.
“Everyone looks at us as the favorite going in,” Staley said. “GW’s got it going. Xavier is playing extremely well. It’s the other teams who you think are down and out… that I’m most afraid of. It only takes a little momentum, and they’ll get it going.”
Here’s a look at who the Owls might face in the quarterfinal, semifinal, and final rounds of the weekend’s A-10 tournament:
La Salle Explorers (12-15, 6-10)
The Owls will most likely meet La Salle, the West Division’s No. 4 seed, in the quarterfinal round.
In their regular-season victory over the Explorers on Jan. 17, the Owls’ defense was their focal point, keeping the Explorers without a basket over the game’s first 10 minutes. A 22-point performance from sophomore forward Crista Ricketts pulled the Explorers within three points near the end of the first half.
Ricketts could create problems defensively for the Owls. Ricketts was last season’s A-10 Rookie of the Year. She is the first of three big-time scorers Temple could face in the conference tournament. Ricketts, a 48 percent shooter, was fifth in the conference in scoring with 15.4 points.
Xavier Musketeers (19-8, 13-3)
After an impressive season-ending run, Xavier could face the Owls in the A-10 tournament for the second consecutive year. In last season’s quarterfinal game, the Musketeers took a 24-4 lead before a 34-9 Temple run gave the Owls the lead for good.
The Musketeers are led by all-America candidate Tara Boothe. The junior forward led the conference in scoring this season with 19.7 points per game. She also pulled down 7.7 rebounds, sixth best in the A-10. Boothe is a 33-percent shooter from three-point range, ranking her first among A-10 centers.
George Washington (20-7, 13-3)
Should the Owls face George Washington in the A-10 title game, it would mark the second straight year they faced the host school for the conference championship. Last year, the Owls dispatched the Hawks, 53-48, at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
This year’s championship could be entirely different. Last season’s Hawks lacked an inside game, and relied heavily on team scoring. Colonials center Anna Montanana is similar to Boothe. She presents an inside-outside game with the ability to pull down double-digit rebounds. Montanana had five double-doubles this season. She also had eight 20-point games.
Moore said the Owls are prepared for a dogfight, whomever they face.
“We have a huge target on our backs,” Moore said. “Every team, from the worst to the best, is going to be gunning for us.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.