Despite strong start, Cardoza unhappy with team’s defense

The Owls still have areas to improve on after winning four of their first six games.

As she paces around her coach’s box during games, coach Tonya Cardoza tries to push her team to play better defensively, talking individually with junior guard Alliya Butts and senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald to explain her expectations.

So far, Cardoza’s talks have not been enough to resolve Temple’s defensive issues. The Owls are allowing 67.2 points per game through six contests, including a season-high 83 in their loss to University of Florida, then ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25, on Nov. 19.

Out of 344 teams in Division I, Temple ranks No. 228 in points against and No. 225 in field goal percentage against, allowing opposing teams to shoot 42.5 percent from the floor.

“We’re just not a good defensive team in the halfcourt right now,” Cardoza said. “We’re not giving effort, and we don’t have the discipline that we should. And it is giving other teams easy looks and makes the game easy for them.”

While playing with four guards on the floor, Temple has become a jump-shooting team. Butts and Fitzgerald have been relying on the 3-point shot to keep the Owls in games early in the season. Butts and Fitzgerald both make an average of two threes per game. Temple is shooting 38 percent from 3-point range, which is No. 107 Division I. The Owls average 6.2 threes per game.

But while Temple is shooting well from behind the arc, the team’s field goal percentage is just 39.8 percent, which ranks No. 217 in Division I.

“We know that some nights our shots aren’t going to be falling, and we need to pick up our effort on the defensive end in, or we’re in for a lot of trouble,” Cardoza said.

Temple is looking to two freshmen to bring a change to the four-guard lineup. Center Shannen Atkinson and forward Shantay Taylor have slowly seen an increase in minutes from game to game, and they’ve played together at times.

Atkinson played five minutes against La Salle and didn’t play against Florida, but she has played at least 12 minutes in the team’s last two games. Taylor played five minutes against Florida and 16 minutes in the team’s loss to Harvard University on Thursday. Though the guards have been the focal point so far, Cardoza hopes the two bigs can add a presence in the paint.

Since the beginning of the season, the core of Butts, Fitzgerald, and junior guards Tanaya Atkinson and Khadijah Berger have been important. The four had started every game before Berger came off the bench Sunday against the University of Vermont. Berger is the only one of the four to average less than 30 minutes. The other three have played at least 35.4 minutes per game.

The fours have combined to score 77.4 percent of the Owls’ points. They are also in the top four in assists per game and four of the top six in rebounds per game. Fitzgerald is the team’s scoring and assists leader.

“I’ve just stayed focused on whatever my team needs me to do to help win each game,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m just going to make sure I stay tuned in, and stay involved in every game whether I’m making shots or not to just make sure I’m being the good leader I need to be.”

Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at or on Twitter @_kevinschaeffer.

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