Candice Dupree is not the kind of player who lets big shots get to her head.
That’s why the sophomore center has come through in the clutch not once, but twice against city rival Saint Joseph’s, hitting clutch shots resulting in two important wins.
On Jan. 25, her layup with 11 seconds remaining kept the Owls undefeated in conference play and sealed a 62-61 overtime win on Hawk Hill.
“On the first one, I knew the shot clock was running down,” Dupree recalled, “And it was not even the kind of shot coach [Dawn] Staley was looking for. I got the ball in the post and was supposed to make a post move, but a double team came, so I dribbled back out and just shot it. Thank God it went in.”
Last week, Dupree knocked down an eight-foot jumper to put away the Hawks for a second time, in a dramatic come-from-behind 58-56 victory at the Liacouras Center.
“The second game was a little different,” she said. “We set up a play for [senior guard Christena] Hamilton to go off a ball screen or for me to get the ball inside. They threw a double team at me in the middle, so I dribbled baseline and put up a fade-away jumper. That one was pretty much planned out.”
Dupree is coming into her own as one of the premier centers in the Atlantic Ten Conference. She leads the team with 14.2 points per game, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and is shooting a blistering 57 percent.
These numbers come as no surprise to a coaching staff that scouted Dupree in Washington, D.C., when she played on a Junior Nationals travel team as a high school sophomore.
Although the recruiting letters poured in, Dupree was apprehensive about her chances to play Dvision I basketball, let alone coming to Temple. But the opportunity was too attractive to turn down.
Because of a foot injury during her freshman year, Dupree sat out the final 11 games of the season. Staley believed the injury was an eye-opening experience for Dupree.
“Candice had a lot of time to sit down and see the game last season,” Staley said. “She has used the time wisely. Looking at what was happening out there on the floor, it all made sense to her. Things we told the post players last season, she was seeing [from the bench]. I’m proud of her and that she has been able to have the type of season she is having.”
Dupree’s determination to overcome injury has made her a stronger player. Before allowing her foot to heal entirely, senior forward Toni Belafonte remembered Dupree as anxious to get back on the court.
“In the summertime, she was not supposed to be on her foot yet,” Belafonte said, “But she wanted to get back so fast, that she wanted to do what it took to be effective. She has accepted her role as our leader, and she has delivered.”
Assistant coach Carla McGhee has seen talented players before. McGhee is a two-time national champion, who played at Tennessee. McGhee has worked with Dupree and thinks her progress rivals that of the best players she has faced.
McGhee even gave Dupree the nickname “Franchise,” believing that if the team is to go far, it will be because of Dupree.
“I told [Candice] that she went 6-of-17 [against St. Joseph’s],” McGhee said. “But the one that went in was the one that put us over the hump. She constantly amazes me as I watch her grow up and develop into the player she’s destined to be.”
With Dupree at the helm, the Owls are currently atop the A-10 and have wrapped up the regular season East Division title. With two games to play, Dupree sees every game as a learning opportunity before the most important stretch of her blossoming career – the postseason.
“We can win the A-10,” Dupree said. “After that, it’s hard to tell, depending on which teams make it into the [NCAA] Tournament. Once we are able to see what our competition is going to be, I think we have a pretty good shot to make it to the Elite Eight or even the Final Four.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.