The women’s basketball team’s game against Villanova Thursday night was a crucial one.
While a win would give the 25th-ranked Owls confidence in preparation for next Thursday’s matchup with No. 1 Tennessee, a loss would leave them reeling before their biggest test of the season.
The Owls didn’t have to worry about ‘what ifs’ after beating city-rival Villanova, 52-43, in Big 5 play at the Liacouras Center. The Owls, 3-0 in the Big 5, spoiled the Wildcats’ chances at winning an outright Big 5 title.
The Owls overcame a close first half, in which they made just 11-of-29.
“I don’t know of any team that blows Villanova out,” coach Dawn Staley said. “I don’t ever see them losing by 20 points. I didn’t think we were going to be any different then any other team that plays them.”
The Owls are back on track, Staley said, after beating No. 15 Georgia Monday and coupling that with their win against the Wildcats.
“It was a big stretch for us,” Staley said. “The Georgia game was good for us. This game was good for us because it was contrasting styles and then we look forward to playing Tennessee, who probably has a mix of both.”
The Owls’ frontcourt sparked the win. Junior forward Kamesha Hairston led the Owls (8-2) with 14 points while senior forward Candice Dupree and sophomore center Lady Comfort each scored nine. Led by Dupree’s 10 rebounds, the trio accounted for 23 of the Owls’ 45 boards.
In her second game in a Temple uniform, New Mexico transfer Fatima Maddox saw her first extended playing time. Staley said Maddox would see most of her playing time when the pace of the game is amplified. Maddox played well against the Wildcats, totaling eight points and six rebounds in 22 minutes in an up-tempo style.
“It feels so good. It’s been a long time coming,” Maddox said.
The Wildcats (7-3) gave the Owls plenty of opportunities to put the game away early. They failed to make a shot until seven minutes into the game. Through the game’s first 13 minutes, the Wildcats had made just two of 20 shots.
But the Owls failed to capitalize on the Wildcats’ shooting woes. Their five-minute scoring drought midway through the first half allowed the Wildcats to cut the Owls’ lead to five points at 12-7. The Owls went into halftime with a slim 22-19 lead.
The Owls came out of the break on fire, hitting eight of their first nine shots and sparking a 15-5 run. The Wildcats’ shooting struggles continued throughout the game, as they hit just 7-of-30 shots from the floor in the second half.
“How you start is how you finish,” Wildcats coach Harry Perretta said. “When you start that poorly you usually don’t come out of it [on top.]”
The Owls have a seven-day break before they take on No. 1 Tennessee at the Liacouras Center next Thursday. Guard Shanna Zolman leads the Lady Vols in scoring, averaging 16.7 points per game. Freshman phenom Candace Parker is averaging 16.4 ppg and a team-high 9.4 rebounds per game.
The Owls nearly upset the Lady Vols last season, falling, 52-48, in Knoxville.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.