RALEIGH, N.C. – A sense of desperation
seems to be growing among members of the
women’s basketball team.
After losing to Duke, the No. 1-ranked
team in the nation, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last week, the problem became more evident.
More than anything else, the loss to the
Blue Devils symbolized a larger concern for
the Owls: The need to win games against topranked teams.
“We did well [this season, but] we
could’ve done a lot better,” junior Lady
Comfort said after the loss last Tuesday.
“We could’ve won a couple more big games that we needed to win.”
What does the team need to do to be
successful next season?
“Win big games, which we didn’t do this
year,” Comfort said.
By all accounts, the Owls had yet another
Temple had a 13-1 record in the Atlantic
Ten Conference before losing a tight game
to Xavier, 54-53, in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament. The Owls went on separate winning streaks of 11 and eight games after starting the season at 4-4. They finished the season with a 25-8 overall record, the second-highest win total in the program’s history.
But coach Dawn Staley and her players are still searching for a program-defining victory that would catapult the team into a higher level of national prominence.
They didn’t get that big-time victory this
Temple played seven NCAA Tournament teams during the regular season (Georgia Tech, Bowling Green, North Carolina State, Maryland, Rutgers, Xavier and George Washington).
They went 2-5 against those teams,
beating just Georgia Tech and Xavier.
With the loss to Duke, the Owls dropped
to 0-3 against nationally-ranked teams for
the season. Temple is 4-16 against nationally-ranked teams during Staley’s seven-year coaching tenure. The Owls’ last win over a nationally ranked team came on Jan. 19, 2006, against No. 9 Rutgers, the highest-ranking team they’ve ever beaten.
“I’m always confident about the future,”
Staley said after the Owls’ loss to Duke, “but I’m tired of losing games like this. It’s exhausting. We can’t continue to play OK and not get the win. I’m pretty tired of it.
“Yes, we’re going to be in basketball games,” Staley continued. “We’re going to be in basketball games with the No. 1 team in the country. We’re going to be in basketball games with the No. 200 team in the country.
“We need a win – we need a big win. That’s when our program will certainly move forward in the direction we want. I’m just really tired of coming up short all the time. We just have to bear down and get one and I think if you get one, you may be able to get another one. But it’s just hard getting over that hump.”
The loss to Duke signaled the end of the road for seniors Kamesha Hairston and Fatima Maddox.
Hairston, the A-10 Player of the Year, filled in sufficiently for Candice Dupree as the Owls’ primary scoring option.
The forward finished her career with 1,573 points to rank fourth among Temple’s all-time scoring leaders, behind Marilyn Stephens, Dupree and Pam Balogh, respectively.
Hairston led the Owls and the A-10 in scoring with 18.9 points per game, which was the 23rd-best average in the nation.
Hairston, who is expected to be a first-round selection at the WNBA Draft April 4, was also named to the All-Conference First Team and the All-Conference Defensive Team. She led the Owls in rebounding with 8.6 boards per game and notched 12 double-doubles during the season.
Maddox, who transferred to Temple from New Mexico in December 2004, teamed with freshman LaKeisha Eaddy to replace Jennifer Owens and Khadija Bowens in the backcourt. Maddox averaged 12 points per game and led the Owls in free throw and three-point percentage.
“Just working out with the girls at the beginning of the season, I was real confident coming into this season,” Maddox said. “I’m proud to be a part of this team because I think that we worked really hard throughout the season. I wouldn’t want to be on a different team. I think this is a great team and I cherish the experience that I had with them.”
Staley shared similar sentiments about the season, noting that nobody knew just how good this team could be after losing three former starters.
“This is a really proud moment for this particular basketball team because we came in with no expectations,” Staley said.
“Yes, we set goals for ourselves, but I think they were set on the premise of not knowing what sort of season we would have.
“I thought they worked toward [those goals]. I told them at the end of the game that there weren’t too many basketball games where we didn’t play every play as if it were our last. As a coach you always want that, to walk away knowing that they played their hearts out.
“We just have to play smarter in certain
situations and I think we will do that,” Staley continued.
“Situations like this will help us get a little bit better. I am proud to be associated with this team and these young ladies.”
This offseason could be an interesting one for Staley, who owns a 151-67 record in seven seasons as coach of the Owls. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that Staley’s contract ends in July.
Coaching vacancies exist at Texas, Florida, Arkansas and Washington. If Louisiana
State declines to hire interim coach Bob Starkley, a position could become available there.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.