SportsAfter 29 gut-wrenching games, the regular season is finally over. And the Owls (12-17, 5-9 Atlantic 10 Conference) can focus on the only thing left that matters: Win the A-10 tournament.
Temple took its grand ol’ time to figure out if it was an A-10 tournament team. Right up until the end it kept everyone, probably including itself, guessing.
“It’s been really tough,” freshman forward Sally Kabengano said. “You don’t want a season like this, of course. You want to win, you want to do well.”
“You don’t ever want to be in this position, and for a long time coach has been basically begging us to do all the little things and we still have not yet done it,” senior center Victoria Macaulay said.
It’s an interesting story, how the team got to this point.
The season started when last season ended. When the all-too-often-mentioned Shey Peddy, Kristen McCarthy and BJ Williams graduated, they left behind a huge void that needed to be filled.
The next blow was losing sophomore guard Monaye Merritt to an ACL tear in May 2012, forcing fellow sophomore Tyonna Williams to take her place at the point. The transition wasn’t easy and as much as Williams played well this year, all parties probably can’t wait to have the right pieces back next season.
The Owls spent the months leading up to the season—and let’s be honest, many games this season—scrambling to figure out how and where everyone fit in. The only sure lock was Macaulay, but even she didn’t play like the star she should have been every game.
The experimentation gave mixed results. At times, the Owls played like a young, talented and scrappy squad. Then there was the mistake prone, unproven and even unenthusiastic Temple team that showed up. Sometimes the two sides would make an appearance multiple times in the same game.
“And then there’s games where, down the stretch, all you have to do is make one play,” coach Tonya Cardoza said of the most challenging season of her coaching tenure. “And because of whatever, we don’t make that one play.”
Simply put, they lacked senior leadership.
The Owls opened the season with three wins in the first four games. The contests were low-scoring, typical of a Cardoza-coached team.
December through January was one of the most grueling stretches in recent memory. Youth finally reared its ugly head during a six-game skid that mercifully ended with a win against Western Michigan.
And the A-10 season, well, it had its ups and downs. The Owls never won three games in a row during the conference season.
The Owls had some great games this season, starting with their 74-67 comeback victory at home against then-unbeaten Syracuse. An overtime loss to rival St. Joseph’s University and keeping pace with the class of the A-10, Dayton, for 30 minutes showed just how tough the Owls could be at their best against top competition.
But the season was also marred by bad losses. Just days after upsetting the Orange in November, Temple played one of its worst games of the season, losing to previously winless Kent State, 71-62. The Owls’ loss to Virginia Commonwealth University nearly cost them a seed in the A-10 tournament, as their fate remained undecided until the final week. And Temple forgot to show up in a 71-55 drubbing at the hands of La Salle, a team that was 5-13 at the time.
“That’s been the most frustrating thing, the inconsistency,” Cardoza said.
“You play Syracuse and you beat Syracuse, who’s a Top 25 team,” Cardoza added. “You play St. Joe’s when you haven’t had a great year and you take them into overtime. And then you go to Kent State, who’s won three games, and you don’t pull that out.”
And let’s not forget the Duquesne game, when Macaulay and redshirt-junior forward Natasha Thames were benched for lack of effort. That’s about as low as low points get.
But somehow, someway, this squad managed to hold it together just long enough to get to where it is now. The A-10 Tournament, where records don’t matter and it’s all about who can get hot.
“You don’t want to feel this way we’re feeling, you don’t want to look the way we look,” Kabengano said. “So it’s been a lesson and hopefully we learn from it.”
The marathon is over. Now it’s a sprint to the finish.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.