In the second half of Temple’s Jan. 10 win against Cincinnati, coach Tonya Cardoza yelled from the bench, telling her team to tighten up its defense.
The Bearcats put up 34 points in the first half, but Cardoza’s verbal messages sank in as Temple held Cincinnati to 17 points during the last 20 minutes of play in the Owls’ 74-51 victory at McGonigle Hall.
“The Cincinnati game, you can see the communication and the switches,” Cardoza said “They didn’t get open shots.”
On Saturday, the Owls lost to Connecticut, the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll, 104-49.
In the team’s previous three games against Tulsa, Cincinnati and Central Florida, the Owls forced 50 total turnovers and limited their opponents to 53.3 points per game. Before its three-game winning streak, Temple allowed 69.7 PPG.
“Defense really gets us going,” Cardoza said. “We get stops, we get in position and score easy buckets. When we are just standing around and not being aggressive, letting people pick us apart, then we drop our heads and go down the other end and worry about what we just did.”
The Owls totaled 8.7 steals per game last season, which ranked fifth in the American Athletic Conference and No. 96 out of 343 Division I teams.
Cardoza blames defense for Temple’s six losses in 2015-16 and credits good defensive play for the team’s 11 wins.
“I am sure when I watch film it is going to be something we did on the defensive side that got us an easy transition or a bucket and we feed off of it,” Cardoza said. “We can’t forget to communicate, we can’t forget to do it all the time because we want to as a whole feed off of our defense.”
Cardoza has played five guards in the starting lineup since a 61-55 win against Villanova on Dec. 2, 2015. Sophomore guard Donnaizha Fountain is tied for third on the team in blocks with eight and leads the team in defensive rebounds with 72.
“Sometimes I get tuned in, and I am chasing after the ball, it’s like a dog with a bone, you’re going after it,” Fountain said. “But that’s my problem, I get out of position and our coach always tells me ‘You got to focus on your man.’”
After defeating Cincinnati, Fountain and her teammates said communication is making a difference in the way the team performs defensively.
“You can always be vocal, but you are not always saying the right thing like, ‘Hey, switch, watch the guy on your left,’” Fountain said. “It comes by experience knowing what to say and when to say it.”
Junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald is second in steals with 34. With one senior on the team in guard Erica Covile, Fitzgerald is taking a leadership role.
Fitzgerald is trying to lead the defense in order for Temple to have more opportunities to score. Temple averages 69.9 points per game while holding its opponents to 63.5 points per game.
“Now we are starting all guards, so we have to all help each other out because if we don’t we are going to get killed inside because other teams are taller,” Fitzgerald said. “Before we were lackadaisical when it came to defense, and were more worried about scoring.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at email@example.com.