Through 10 games, something was off about the Owls. Going into the holiday break the team was 3-7 and coming off four straight losses.
Coach Tonya Cardoza’s team had several problems.
Last year’s leading scorer and preseason all-conference guard Feyonda Fitzgerald was struggling and not performing up to the expectations she and her coach set for herself after last season.
Without Fitzgerald’s scoring, the Owls were also lacking a go-to player whom they could run their offense around.
With no classes during the holiday break, Temple used the extra time to put in some extra work, attempt to better the problems and become a better basketball team.
“We have to focus on just basketball and getting in the gym extra days working on our game trying to get better as a team,” Fitzgerald said.
After starting the holiday season with a 30-point win against Howard and a close loss to Big 5 rival Villanova, Temple turned things around heading into conference play against Memphis.
The Owls topped the Tigers, 58-57, and continued to roll with victories in their next two games.
With wins against Memphis, Southern Methodist and Cincinnati, Temple looked like a different team, kicking off conference play with a 3-0 start.
During the streak, Cardoza saw her team resolve some of the issues that plagued it at the beginning of the year.
More known as a prolific rebounder in the early parts of the season, junior Erica Covile transformed into a dominant force over this stretch, providing the scoring punch her team needed.
Since Dec. 14, Covile has averaged 13.9 points per game to go with 10.3 rebounds per contest. The guard, who plays much more like a forward, has reached double figures in eight of her last nine contests, including eclipsing the 20-point mark twice.
She was named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week for her play during the week of Jan. 4.
Often the Owls’ tallest player on the floor during the break, with forward Safiya Martin out with a lower-body injury, Covile said her quickness gives her an advantage over the bigger players that cover her.
“Some of the big girls can’t guard me,” Covile said. “They’re slower than me, so I can get by them.”
In addition to the emergence of Covile, Fitzgerald, who started the first 12 games of the season for Temple, found herself coming off the bench.
The benching seemed to ignite a spark in the sophomore guard, as her play started to heat up in a sixth-man role. She has averaged 13.8 ppg since the move to the bench and has begun to show signs of the player she was last season.
“When [Cardoza] didn’t start me, it opened my eyes and made we want it more,” Fitzgerald said after a 22-point performance in the Owls’ defeat of SMU on Dec. 30.
The Owls (7-10, 3-1 The American) went 4-3 over the holiday break and went back to school tied for third in the conference standings.
“I think that we’re young and if we start paying attention a little more maybe things will really work out for us,” Cardoza said of the team’s chances against the rest of the conference. “We still have a lot of games left and I think every day we’re learning something. Once we start putting it all together I think we can really make a run in the league.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue