As the women’s basketball team composed itself after a 66-58 overtime loss to West Virginia in the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitation tournament last Wednesday, the Owls were able to revel in what their season was.
The fact that they had won three times through their first 10 games of the season, eventually grinded its way into the WNIT and secured four wins once they got there meant a lot to them.
“I’m proud of where we ended up,” sophomore forward Safiya Martin said. “It’s been a journey from where we came.”
“I feel like we grew as a team,” she added. “We all matured.”
That journey started in November.
Coming off consecutive losing seasons and a two-year absence from postseason play, the team made it a mission to get back to playing in late March.
After a 3-7 start to the season, that mission seemed unlikely, if not impossible. The Owls used a late-season run to even their final regular-season record up to 16-16 and grab a WNIT at-large bid.
Postseason wins against Marist, the University of Pennsylvania, North Carolina State and Middle Tennessee provided a glimpse of what could come next season.
Returning all but one player next season in senior guard Tyonna Williams, Temple upped its own expectations for next season after the tournament run.
“We know how good of a team we can be,” Martin said. “We know now that we’ve experienced the [WNIT] and postseason. Our goal next year is to make the NCAA [tournament].”
Coach Tonya Cardoza said she hopes her team does not get complacent with its success in the WNIT, and is confident it won’t.
“We can’t just assume that because of the run we went on this postseason, [making the NCAA tournament] is going to be guaranteed,” Cardoza said. “The only way that happens is if we all improve.”
“I think they all want more,” Cardoza added.“I think that losing against West Virginia and the way that we lost, that left a bitter taste in their mouths.”
While Temple’s run in the WNIT showcased its ability to top WNIT competition, the squad did not fare as well against teams currently situated in the NCAA tournament. Compiling a 1-7 record against those who qualified, the Owls lost by double-digits in all but one of their competitions.
In losses to Rutgers, Florida State and Tulane, along with two defeats each to South Florida and Connecticut, the average margin of defeat for the Owls in those games was greater than 20 points.
Defense is where Temple will look to focus on to beat higher-caliber opponents next season, as the Owls allowed more than 76 points per game against NCAA tournament competition.
“That’s something we can control,” Cardoza said of her team’s defense. “We can control how good we are on the defensive end and how good we are at making sure we box out, so that’s something we will control and will get better at.”
The Owls will also have to continuously play good basketball from November to March if they want to find themselves playing in the postseason once again.
Consistency was an issue for the team in the 2014-15 campaign, as junior guard Erica Covile said the Owls lost to inferior opponents early on like Fordham and the University of Delaware. Digging another hole for themselves to climb from is not something the team plans on doing.
“When the season comes, we know we need to beat the teams we need to beat,” Covile said.
Cardoza said her team’s growth in learning how to win will put it in a better position to start off next year’s campaign.
“Early on, we didn’t know how to win basketball games,” Cardoza said. “We’d be in games and couldn’t really find a way to get over the top. I felt like, towards the end of the season, even before the postseason, we learned how to win close games.”
Williams’ departure will also need to be addressed if Temple is to ride its WNIT success into an NCAA tournament berth next year. The team will need to find a way to replace not only her 10.8 points per game, but also the leadership role she played for the team.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens, who fills that hole in,” Martin said of Williams’ departure. “She leaves a big footprint to fill.”
Covile, though, sees herself as someone who could step up as a leader next year.
“I don’t think anybody can fill her role,” Covile said. “But somebody will have to step up and be that leader she was, and at least try to portray what she did. I think that leader will be me.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.