Just over two weeks ago, Kamesha Hairston
nearly labeled herself a failure.
The women’s basketball team had just
been upset in the semifinals of the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament. There would be no fourth straight A-10 Championship for Temple.
“I kind of measured this season on whether we could win a title or not, whether I could carry my team,” Hairston said that night.
“It didn’t happen.”
Now, the senior forward has a shot at
Sunday’s 64-61 victory against Nebraska
in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament
meant one thing: To make their first
Sweet Sixteen, the Owls must take down Duke
this afternoon at 5 p.m.
Topping the Blue Devils, undisputedly
the best team in women’s college basketball, would make Hairston a part of the first Owls’ team to best a No. 1-ranked team.
A win, coupled with a strong performance,
would improve her stock for next
month’s WNBA Draft.
Upset Duke and Hairston would finally
step out of the shadow cast over her by former all-American Candice Dupree.
Dupree is the player typically associated
with Temple. She was the centerpiece of the
Owls’ three consecutive A-10 Championships.
Her name is scattered all over the program’s record book, not to mention that of the A-10.
Despite having one of the best seasons in Temple history, Hairston has not garnered the attention once given to Dupree.And despite having lost just seven games all season – six of which came to teams that made the Big Dance – the Owls (25-7) never cracked the national rankings.
Beating the Blue Devils – in North Carolina, no less – would change both situations.
Actually doing so could be tough.
Hairston and the Owls will need a near-perfect performance to bring down the Blue Devils, who went a perfect 30-0 before finally losing in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Owls can’t afford to make the numerous fouls they committed against Nebraska.
They definitely can’t suffer a long scoring draught like the seven-minute one they endured against the Cornhuskers, who erased a 12-point lead. A similar stretch against the Blue Devils would prove deadly, given that Duke’s offense ranks 11th in the nation in points per game.
The Blue Devils’ scoring defense ranks even higher at second, allowing a measly 51.6 points per contest. Alison Bales leads the nation in blocks, with 4.5 per game.Though the Owls don’t have season-defining
win – beating Duke would certainly take the cake – they have hung with nearly every team they’ve played.
When Maryland rolled into the Liacouras Center last December, the Owls hung with the top-ranked Terrapins for 35 minutes. And that was without Lady Comfort.
This time, the Owls have Comfort, and she just might be the key to the Owls’ success.
The more effective Comfort is, the more defensive attention she attracts. If Comfort has to head to the bench early with a few fouls, the Blue Devils will be able to focus solely on Hairston.
Hairston’s OK with the extra attention. She’ll need to be if the Owls are going to win.
It’s wins Hairston wants these days.
She’s already seen a lot of them. Hairston’s been on the court for 98 Temple victories – more than any player in program history.
But the next one would certainly be her – and the program’s – biggest.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.