Before Tanaya Atkinson leaves the practice floor in McGonigle Hall, the sophomore guard steps up to the free-throw line.
Atkinson, who has a 50.7 percent average from the free throw line this season, does not walk out the doors of the facility until she makes 50 free throws.
“When I’m playing in the post and I get fouled, I can’t finish,” Atkinson said. “My problem is that if I can’t hit these free throws, it’s really a waste.”
Since a 69-67 loss at Southern Methodist on Jan. 5, when the Owls converted 12-of-27 free throws—their worst performance all season—multiple players have stayed after practice to make at least 50 free throws before exiting the gym.
The Owls have shot less than 70 percent from the free-throw line in 11 games this season, including the last six games.
With hopes of an NCAA tournament berth still in play, the Owls have focused on details like foul shooting in practice to prepare for a late-season run.
“If we want to win we have to make sure we’re in tune,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “It’s about being focused and paying attention. We have to do the little things.”
Junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, who has a 79.3 percent free-throw percentage this season, hasn’t stayed after practice to work on her foul shooting.
Instead, Fitzgerald has worked on her mid-range game. The 5-foot-7-inch guard has made 35.2 percent of her shots this season, the lowest percentage among Temple’s starters.
“Whether it’s my pull up jump shots, inside jump shots or 3-pointers, I’ve just been working on my game all around,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve been more focused.”
During the extended-practice periods, the Owls said they have developed a better chemistry. All five starters are averaging more than eight points per game in the regular season and have totaled more than 50 points each in conference play.
“I think everybody knows exactly where they want the ball and when they should get the ball,” Atkinson said. “How we all feel is if somebody has the hot hand, we should be giving it to them.”
Connecticut, the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll, is the only undefeated team in the American Athletic Conference. Temple is 5-2 and tied for second in The American with Tulane and South Florida.
Despite 11 wins this season, the Owls haven’t notched a Top 100 RPI win since a Dec. 2, 2015 victory against Villanova, which is ranked No. 61 in the RPI.
The Owls still have a chance to earn marquee RPI wins with two matchups each against No. 36 South Florida, No. 66 Tulane and a home game against No. 3 UConn before the end of the regular season.
“We need just about every game from here on out,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re working harder to try and prove everyone wrong.”
The Owls will go on a two-game road trip this week with a Tuesday game at Tulane and a Saturday contest at East Carolina. Temple owns a 4-5 away record, but the team is 7-2 at home, including 3-0 in conference home games.
“There’s definitely a home-court advantage for us and everyone loves playing at home,” Atkinson said. “When you’re traveling, you’ve got to wake up early, and do a lot of movement rather than waking up for class and clearing your head.”
Mark McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.
Video by David Petrozziello.