No Temple basketball team has ever done it. Not the men, not the women. Three-peating as Atlantic Ten Conference champions is a feat almost unheard of.
The women’s basketball team will attempt this weekend to become the first Temple basketball team to win three consecutive Atlantic Ten Conference championships. The only A-10 women’s team ever to do it was Penn State, which won four straight conference titles from 1983-86.
But as the Owls have seen all season, their competition is stronger than in the last two years. The Owls (21-7 overall, 12-4 A-10) lost their fourth A-10 game on Friday to George Washington before they rebounded with a win in a 91-79 scoring spree at Rhode Island on Sunday.
The Owls clearly separated themselves last year as the tournament favorite by winning all 16 of their in-conference games. This season, no front-runner has emerged. Charlotte, George Washington and Temple are the favorites, but Xavier and Saint Joseph’s have also proven to be contenders.
Even Richmond has proven itself as a contender, despite its 6-9 conference mark. In the last two weeks, the Spiders have handed costly defeats to the Owls, 49ers and Colonials.
“When you look at the brackets, you don’t want to play anybody,” Colonials coach Joe McKeown said.
The Colonials have the most momentum entering the tournament. After topping the Owls on Friday, GW knocked off Charlotte Sunday to clinch the tournament’s top seed.
The Owls had struggled to gain steam by failing to put together an extended winning streak in the conference. Twice they have had four-game win streaks snapped by road losses. The Owls’ offensive explosion against the Rams Sunday left the team with some offensive firepower.
Their 91-point effort last Sunday was the most the Owls have scored since Feb. 12, 1994. They shot nearly 56 percent from the field, which marked a big improvement from their 33-percent shooting against the Colonials earlier last week.
Senior forward Candice Dupree led the Owls on Sunday with 27 points and 14 rebounds. The all-America candidate has stepped up her game coming down the stretch. She has averaged 22 points and 12.3 rebounds in the last four games.
The Owls have the advantage of playing the tournament in their home city. St. Joe’s is the host school and the Owls are 12-4 in games played in Philadelphia. Coach Dawn Staley said playing in Philly has given her teams an advantage in past tournaments, but that ultimately, her team must show up ready to play.
“When we come to play there’s not a team in this league that can beat us,” Staley said, “… but if we give a half-[hearted] effort every team in this league can beat us.”
The Owls will play their first tournament game Saturday, at 8 p.m. against the winner of the Dayton/Rhode Island game.
Assuming the Owls win their quarterfinal game, they would most likely meet second-seeded Charlotte in the semifinal round. After losing to the Owls on Jan. 6, the 49ers ran off 10-straight A-10 wins to ascend to the top of the A-10 standings. But they dropped two of their final four games and missed out on the top seed, losing to GW in their final game.
If the Owls and the top-seeded Colonials play in the A-10 tournament, the Owls would have their third chance to defeat the Colonials, who rank second to the Owls in A-10 scoring defense.
There is a newly formed rivalry between the two teams, stemming from their regular season matchups. The Colonials snapped the Owls’ 23-game A-10 win streak Jan. 11 in Washington. Then, after scoring just 14 points in the first half of Friday’s game, the Colonials erased an 11-point halftime deficit and eventually won in overtime.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.