Candice Dupree has experienced a lot in two seasons.
She suffered a season-ending foot injury and played on a sub .500 team two years ago. She helped win an Atlantic Ten championship and played in the NCAA Tournament last year. Now, Dupree has high expectations to add to that checklist.
The then-sophomore center played an integral part in Temple’s second conference title in school history. But when Dupree struggled, so did the Owls.
That was most evident in Temple’s season-ending 70-57 loss to Texas Christian in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In that game, Dupree committed several significant fouls and was outmatched at her position, allowing the majority of the Horned Frogs’ 40 points in the paint. Last season’s disappointing finale is behind her now, she said.
“We have a lot more depth on the team this year than we ever have,” Dupree, a junior, said. “We can’t worry about last season because we have more strength, more height, more endurance, things like that. With that, we should get past the first round of the NCAAs this season.”
In her second full season, Dupree is primed to lead the Owls, a unanimous preseason pick among A-10 coaches to win the East Division, deep into March. Selected to the preseason all-conference and all-defensive first teams, Dupree knows she will have to pick up the offensive slack again this season.
“Coach [Dawn Staley] keeps telling me that I’m the go-to player,” she said. “This season, we have experience on our side. I’ll feel a lot more comfortable kicking the ball out to the guards when I get double- and triple-teamed in the post. I know they can hit their shots.”
Dupree’s production hasn’t gone unnoticed around the conference. One of three Owls to start every game last season, Dupree led the team with 13.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, and a .547 field goal percentage.
Opposing coaches are fearful that, like last season, Dupree’s production will escalate when it matters most, toward the end of the regular season and in the A-10 playoffs. That’s why Xavier coach Kevin McGuff has already begun preparations for the Musketeers’ game against Temple, on Jan. 30.
“Once Candice gets her hands on the ball, she makes something good happen,” McGuff said. “We have to be able to limit her touches to be successful. We’re trying to get more physically tough with her. It’s something we are working on already.”
At the end of last season, Staley noticed that her star center was taking a physical beating in the paint. In the offseason, Staley addressed this concern by making a few sizable additions to the roster. Temple now has six players who measure six feet or greater.
Asked whether her job is made easier with her new teammates around, Dupree wasn’t certain. She said it all depends on how quickly her teammates acclimate themselves to Temple’s program.
“Yes and no, really. I can’t get into foul trouble thinking that I have someone to back me up because some of them are still learning the plays,” Dupree said. “They do have the height though. I think we’re just trying to even the playing field for all of them so it’ll be easier later in the season.”
Though she has an experience advantage over Dupree, senior forward Ari Moore recognizes her younger teammate as the team’s go-to player. Moore played a pivotal role in last season’s playoff push, but said the Owls can only do so much with their offensive system, which was built around Dupree. Moore said that the stronger Dupree progresses as an individual player, the better Temple’s program will become this season and in the coming years.
“Candice does things no one else on this team does,” Moore said. “We wouldn’t be as good if we didn’t have her on our side. Her abilities and her potential take us to the next level.”
Moore said the next level should be the second round of the NCAAs. That would add another notch to Dupree’s checklist.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.