During her team’s early-season struggles, coach Tonya Cardoza stressed that junior forward Erica Covile needed to realize how good she can be.
Following her fourth straight double-double, which helped Temple (7-8, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) to an 81-64 rout of Cincinnati (3-11, 0-4 The American) Saturday, Cardoza said Covile has now realized how crucial she is to the team’s success.
Covile, who scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the win, finished the game on an efficient 9-of-10 shooting. After missing her first shot of the game, Covile went on to make nine straight.
Despite having back-to-back 20-point games, Cardoza believes Covile’s value is on the defensive end. Her 15 rebounds, a career high, included a team-high 12 defensive rebounds.
“She is doing a good job of not allowing her guy to score points on her,” Cardoza said. “But more importantly, she is on the boards. That has been the biggest asset for us.”
For the season, Covile is averaging 11 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game. Cardoza said the 6-foot-1 guard, who has been forced to play out of position all year, has assumed direction of the team.
“She is playing with so much confidence right now and I think she is really feeling like this is her team,” Cardoza said.
The Owls also had a 16-point advantage for points off the bench, mostly due to a double-digit afternoon for Feyonda Fitzgerald. The sophomore guard, who was removed from the starting lineup and inserted as the sixth man following the team’s loss to Villanova on Dec. 22, scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Through the last three games, Fitzgerald is averaging 16 points per game on 42 percent shooting
“Right now she is playing with confidence,” Cardoza said of Fitzgerald. “… I don’t know how long she is going to be coming off the bench but as long as we are winning and it is working, I’m not going to mess with it. Right now I don’t think she is content with it. She wants to start.”
Fitzgerald, who was removed from the starting lineup after poor shooting and inconsistent play, admitted herself following the team’s win over Southern Methodist on Dec. 30 that she was not fully focused before the benching. But now, Cardoza said she sees a new and improved Fitzgerald.
“I feel like right now she is thinking that this is a good thing … she’s not really focusing on scoring so much anymore,” Cardoza said. “She is focusing on the other things that are going to help us win.”
Freshman Alliya Butts, starting in place of Fitzgerald, netted 19 points on nearly 60 percent shooting. Before the game, Butts was challenged to match the play of Cincinnati freshman guard Ana Owens, who leads Cincinnati in scoring this season.
“I think she wanted to prove a point to us that she was just as good if now better,” Cardoza said. “I think she took it as a personal challenge to focus and concentrate more because we were teasing her about the other point guard being more efficient.”
Overall, Cardoza attributes the team’s stronger play to the fact that the team is finally winning. After finishing the season 14-16 last year and starting this season 3-7, the Owls have won four of their last five, including the last three games.
“We’ve lost so many close game and they are a young team and they don’t know how to win,” Cardoza said. “But now we’re pulling games out … I think they are confident because they got some wins under their belt.”
This is the first time the Owls have won three straight games since the beginning of the 2013-2014 season … Temple shot a season-low 59 percent from the free-throw line … It was the third time the Owls have scored 81 points this season, which is the team’s season high … The team’s 11 offensive rebounds were a season low.
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.