The Temple women’s basketball team was just happy to be in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. It was the team’s first appearance in the tournament in over a decade. The invite to the Big Dance was the perfect way to send off the Owls six seniors.
Temple had nothing to lose and could have played that way. But when the Owls stepped onto the court against third seeded Iowa State Saturday at the James Hilton Coliseum there were no smiles. It was strictly business from tipoff to the final buzzer.
They played to win and in stretches had their chances to build on runs. The looks were there, the shots just did not fall.
Temple struggled early to make baskets and shot 32 percent from the field, connecting on 19 of its 58 attempts.
But the Owls still managed to comeback and give the Cyclones trouble.
“If you go away in the NCAA Tournament you shouldn’t be here,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “You’re going to battle and fight and scratch and claw until the horn goes off and the officials say it’s time to go home, you’ve lost. That’s Dawn Staley’s personality, that’s her kids’ personality. They came into a tough environment and played us right to the wire.”
The Owls’ 72-57 loss to the Cyclones was in front of more than 7,000 Iowa State fans.
Iowa State wasn’t seeded third by error. It has three All-Big 12 Conference players including All-American senior forward Angie Welle.
<font face=”verdana, arial, helvetica” size=”2″ color=”#ffffff”2002 NIT Tournament Quarterfinals
• What: Villanova (19-12) vs. Temple (17-14)
• When: Friday 7 p.m.
• Where: The Liacouras Center
• Coaches: VU: Jay Wright (141-97); TU: John Chaney (673-193)
• Key players: VU: Gary Buchanan (G So., 18.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Ricky Wright (F Jr., 13.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Brooks Sales (C Sr., 10.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Derrick Snowden (G So., 10.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg);
• Outlook: The Owls look to be without Greer and even if he does play it will not be at full strength. The resurgence of Lyde will help Temple in trying to contain Sales and Wright. This will be the bonus Big 5 game that many probably would have never imagined at the start of the season, at least not in this tournament. The Owls would love to cut Villanova’s season just short of a trip to NYC and avenge and early season 70-66 loss at The Palestra.
The Cyclones had a shed-full of tools and used them to work against the Owls and their offensive weapons. But the ‘Clones had a hard time unscrewing the hinges to Temple’s pressure defense which forced 17 turnovers.
The Owls first round exit was more than just a loss. It was a learning experience that shed light on the bright future lying ahead for Staley’s team, while at the same time bringing closure to memorable careers for Temple’s six seniors: Athena Christoforakis, Natalia Isaac, Lisa Jakubowicz, Melissa Dunne, Lissa Eagles and Ieesha Turnage.
“This was a tough one, because it was our seniors’ last game,” Staley said following the loss to Iowa State. “I just told them that we played hard for 40 minutes. Sometimes you win them, sometimes you lose them. What’s most important is that class left a legacy at Temple … a beginning of a legacy.”
The Temple seniors set the stage and passed the torch down to their underclass-teammates.
The facets of responding under pressure, being team leaders, performing under the spotlight in the big arenas in front of hostile crowds all trickled down to the underclassmen and were put to the test against the Cyclones.
“I think this is going to help us a lot,” said sophomore forward Christena Hamilton of the team’s NCAA experience. Hamilton added eight points and four rebounds. “We got a chance to get in here and get some experience, introduce the world to Temple basketball.
“Hopefully we won’t dwell on it too much,” she said. “We’ll take it for what it’s worth and we’ll just work and rebuild. We’re still the future of Temple and we’ll go in there and restart for next year.”
The Owls’ future was on display last Saturday night and provided a glimpse of what is to come.
Freshman Ari Moore had a solid showing coming off the bench and tallied 10 points and three rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
Moore made five of her seven attempts from the floor, most of them coming off of screens and tight curls in the paint. She also showed her versatility by swishing several mid-range jumpers from the short corner.
Junior guard Stacey Smalls scored 15 second half points to keep the Owls within striking distance. But the Owls went scoreless for 4 minutes 12 seconds until netting a basket with 50 seconds remaining and the game out of reach.
All the Temple seniors were held well below their season averages.
“If Athena (Christoforakis) gives us her average and Natalia (Isaac) gives us half her average it’s a different basketball game, but you have those nights,” said Staley of her senior class’s performance. “That’s why Stacey (Smalls) stepped up, Ari (Moore) stepped up. You want to see that especially from younger players but you don’t want your seniors to go out on a bad note like that.
“But on the flipside of it you always saw Athena diving for loose balls or Natalia picking somebody’s pocket. They’re not quitters, they played their hearts out there and that’s all you can ask for. They left it all out there on the court and they’re going to move on and do greater things in the world.”
Chris Silva can be reached at CBSRICAN@aol.com