Washington — After a 71-60 loss to Massachusetts on Feb. 11, the women’s basketball team knew it needed to win its next five games to have a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament.
And following Sunday’s 59-49 victory over George Washington, that’s just what the Owls did – and against four of the Atlantic Ten Conference’s top five teams — No. 16 Xavier, Charlotte, Richmond and George Washington — at that.
“All season, once we started conference play, we’ve only had one game we’ve dominated from start to finish and that was probably the Rhode Island game,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We would get up 10, get down 10, but we’d find a way to pull it out. The seniors, this is their last go-around, and I think they want to finish on a good note.
“Our backs were up against the wall after the UMass game. The way we were playing at the time, we were probably hoping to get a bid to the WNIT. The last five games we had to win. It was against the top teams in the conference. The fact that we just went 5-0, I think we definitely put ourselves in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Owls haven’t clinched one of the 64 NCAA Tournament bids yet, of course. The A-10 Tournament still needs to be played this weekend in Charlotte, N.C. With an 11-3 conference record and the tiebreaker over Charlotte, though, they hold the No. 2 seed, meaning they get that all-important first-round bye.
“The No. 2 seed is huge,” Cardoza said. “That bye is key. You don’t want to have to play four games to win the Championship. I was looking at the brackets, and that fourth seed plays at 8 p.m. and then turns around and plays at noon. It was great for us to get that No. 2 seed because that gives you a couple extra hours. And, it’s a different path, and it just hopefully works out better for us.”
What Cardoza didn’t say outright is that Temple can avoid another matchup with either Xavier or G.W. until the A-10 final Monday, March 9. Instead, the Owls will face the St. Bonaventure/Saint Joseph’s winner in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 7.
The Bonnies defeated the Owls, 55-52, back on Jan. 24 at Olean, N.Y. Temple held a 29-23 halftime lead but then shot just 29.4 percent from the field compared to St. Bonaventure’s 52.4 percent.
The Owls fared much better against their archrival, the Hawks, beating them twice this season, 58-53, on Jan. 11 at Philadelphia University and 60-48 Feb. 15 at the Liacouras Center to start that five-game winning streak.
“At this point, we’re just happy to be in the position that we’re in,” Cardoza said. “We’re just ready to do what we have to do.”
A win in the quarterfinals would pit the Owls against the team that prevails in the Charlotte/Duquesne/UMass games.
But, regardless of what happens in Charlotte, Xavier coach Kevin McGuff thought the Owls’ 74-65 win over the Musketeers last Wednesday all but guaranteed them a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think there are still things to be determined in Charlotte, but I would certainly hope that we would be a multiple-team league,” he said. “This victory shows Temple could go a long way in the [NCAA] Tournament, regardless of what happens in Charlotte.”
The Owls seem to have a strong case.
Their RPI stands at 25, and they had a strength of schedule at 38. During the non-conference portion of its schedule, Temple played four teams that are either ranked now or were ranked at the time — Auburn, Rutgers, Florida State and Duke. Granted, the Owls lost all four, though they were within three points of the Tigers at halftime and led the Scarlet Knights by as many as 11 before Rutgers won 64-60.
Last Wednesday, the Owls finally got that victory over a ranked opponent and then followed it up with a road win against G.W., which has made the Sweet 16 the past two seasons.
“There’s no limbo. [G.W.] played ourselves into fifth place. Temple played themselves into second,” G.W. coach Mike Bozeman said after Sunday’s game. “They deserve it.”
With the pieces coming together at the right time, the Owls could very well have played themselves back into the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.