To start each of the Owls’ last 10 games, 6-foot sophomore guard Donnaizha Fountain has stood inside the circle at the center of the floor ready to tip the ball in the direction of a teammate.
Coach Tonya Cardoza implemented a five-guard lineup for the past 10 games, starting three players shorter than 6 feet tall. The Owls’ shortest player, 5-foot-4-inch sophomore guard Alliya Butts, is averaging 16 points per game through the last 10 contests.
“We’re going to keep riding it until we can’t,” Cardoza said of her lineup. “[Teams] know that we’re undersized, so we’re going to keep working even harder now. But right now, I like how we’re starting basketball games.”
After a 70-67 loss to Saint Joseph’s Nov. 29, 2015, Cardoza experimented with five guards Dec. 2, 2015, against Villanova, replacing junior center Safiya Martin with Fountain. Since the loss to the Hawks, Cardoza’s squad has won eight of its past 10 games.
Martin has averaged 7.4 minutes per game since being removed from the lineup and has scored eight total points in the Owls’ last 10 games. Martin started the Owls’ first five games and averaged 19.8 minutes per game, scoring 14 total points.
The squad averaged 69.6 points per game in its first five games and allowed opponents to score 65.6 PPG. Since Cardoza’s switch to the five-guard lineup, the Owls are averaging 72.1 PPG and giving up 58.5 PPG.
“We’re not that big, but we can make up with our heart and hustle,” Cardoza said. “We’re being really aggressive and we’re taking pride in it and helping each other out. We’ve had balanced scoring, a lot of people sharing the ball and a lot of energy.”
Fountain has increased her season averages to 9.3 PPG and 22.7 MPG. The 6-foot guard has scored double-digits seven times this season and six times as a starter.
“We have a team where we can do so much,” Fountain said. “We have multiple players that can play multiple positions. Sometimes we have an advantage, and sometimes we have a disadvantage.”
With the new lineup, the Owls have also emphasized defense. In the first half against Fordham University Dec. 12, 2015, Temple forced 17 turnovers.
As a team, the Owls have totaled 10 steals in six of their last eight games, including 18 against Memphis Dec. 30, 2015. In the squad’s first five games, the Owls did not total double-digit steals in any matchup.
“Whatever gets us going, like the five guards, is really contagious when one of us goes off,” sophomore guard Tanaya Atkinson said. “We just feed off of their energy.”
Under her new system, Cardoza said her team has become more comfortable sharing the scoring responsibility.
In the beginning of the season, Butts and junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald were the two scoring options when the Owls found themselves in deficits. The two guards scored 53.4 percent of the team’s total points in the first five games of the season.
Before conference play started, six Owls scored in double digits in a 100-59 win against Delaware State University Dec. 19, 2015. Since the win, the Owls have had three-or-more double-digit scorers in their last four games.
Senior guard Erica Covile scored a season-high 17 points against Houston Jan. 2, and Fountain netted a career-high 16 points in a win against Memphis.
“It’s always a bright spot when you have six guys in double figures,” Cardoza said. “It’s just showing the unselfishness that we’re sharing the basketball now.”
With Butts, Fountain, Atkinson, Covile and Fitzgerald on the floor, Cardoza said Temple’s depth around the perimeter has helped her team exploit mismatches against larger players.
“Obviously it’s tough for us trying to defend post players, but at the same time they have to worry about defending five guards,” Cardoza said. “This lineup is our best offensive option.”
Mark McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.