The last time the women’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Tournament was two seasons ago. Only five current Owls were around for that berth, which came after Temple won the Atlantic Ten Tournament.
There are a lot of similarities between that team and this year’s squad. In 2002, the Owls put together a 12-4 A-10 record. This season they finished with just two conference losses. Two years ago, the Owls were a No. 1 seed heading into tournament play. They clinched the top seed again this season.
In addition, both squads were led by a young point guard. In 2002, it was Stacey Smalls running the show. Now, junior Cynthia Jordan has set the tone as the court general.
Temple [19-8, 14-2] last won the A-10 title when it was held on its home court at the Liacouras Center. Two years later, the tourney is back in Philadelphia, this time at Saint Joseph’s Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
The Owls have undergone dramatic changes since the season’s start. They opened the season winning only four of their first 10 contests, which could have been fatal. But coach Dawn Staley said for this team to overcome a slow start, winning the conference was imperative.
“We have to get 12, 13 [conference] wins,” Staley said after Temple’s last home loss, Jan. 2 against Florida. “We have to take it out of the committee’s hands and win our tournament.”
Shortly after making that statement, Staley’s team went on a tear, winning 14 of the next 17 games en route to claiming the East Division’s No. 1 seed and earning a first-round bye. The Owls’ recent seven-game winning streak was snapped on Sunday with a 61-52 loss to George Washington.
The winner of the A-10 Championship earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. By winning the A-10 title, the Owls could potentially play in their own building for the first two rounds. The Liacouras Center is a host to the first two rounds in the East Region. The Owls went 10-3 at the Liacouras Center this season, their best home record under Staley.
“Even if we had to go to Canada, we would still want to go [to the NCAA Tournament],” senior guard Christena Hamilton said. “If it is in Philadelphia, why shouldn’t we strive to be a part of it?”
The road to the title
If the Owls are to advance to the NCAA’s, here are some things that need to be done in the conference tournament:
Stopping a team’s leading scorer has been difficult for Temple. Each of the three teams Temple could face have a big-time scorer.
The Owls will most likely face Xavier [16-11, 8-8] in the quarterfinals. Temple handily won the regular season meeting, 61-50, at the Cintas Center.
But Xavier has history working in its favor. They enter the tournament with the longest active streak of semifinal appearances in the A-10 with six. The Musketeers also won the championship in 2000 and 2001.
Xavier’s Tara Boothe is fourth in the conference in scoring with 18.5 points per game. The sophomore is among the conference leaders in rebounds per game (7.3) and field-goal percentage (54.7 percent).
Richmond [19-8, 11-5], the West Division’s No. 2 seed, could present problems for the Owls in the semis. The Spiders have three players averaging double figures, but none is better than Kate Flavin. The junior forward leads the team in points (18.6), rebounds (9.3), steals (1.85) and field goal percentage (60 percent). The Spiders are 10-4 when Flavin is their leading scorer. The Spiders dropped a 72-70 overtime decision to the Owls at the Liacouras Center in the team’s only meeting this season.
And if Temple advances to the A-10 final, the Owls will likely face George Washington [21-6, 14-2], the top seed in the West Division. Senior Cathy Joens has put together an impressive season for the Colonials. When the conference’s second-leading scorer struggles, the Colonials spread the floor and find the open shooter.
The Colonials have knocked off Temple in three of the last four meetings, including last weekend. A rematch will present problems for a Temple team that, despite an impressive record, lacks wins against quality opponents. Their current RPI [Ratings Percentage Index] is 57, which would leave Temple on the bubble.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.