After junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald hit a midrange jumper to pull within two with three minutes remaining before half, South Florida’s Shalethia Stringfield quickly missed a layup, giving Temple a chance to take its first lead since five minutes, 30 seconds into the game.
But after a missed jumper by sophomore guard Tanaya Atkinson, the Owls closed the half 0-for-5 from the field and committed two turnovers to fall into a 10-point deficit heading into the locker room.
That lead grew as the Bulls, ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 Poll, pulled away late in the fourth quarter to give South Florida (21-7, 14-3 American Athletic Conference a 76-62 victory against Temple (18-10, 12-5 The American) at the Sun Dome on Saturday afternoon.
“We get off to a good start and then got hampered by foul trouble,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “It bothered us having Erica [Covile] and Donnaizha [Fountain] on the bench for most of the first half.”
With 6:59 remaining, senior guard Erica Covile was whistled for her fifth foul while Temple trailed by 10 points. Four minutes later, the Owls found themselves in a 72-54 hole, which put the game out of reach.
Covile had to sit out of the game in the late in the second quarter with three fouls, limiting her and her starters to produce points offensively.
As a team, Temple had four starters with four fouls or more. The Owls finished the game with 24 team fouls. The only game the Owls had more fouls was when Temple recorded 33 fouls in a 100-97 five-overtime loss to Memphis on Feb. 18.
Although the Owls contained Bulls’ senior guard Courtney Williams, who leads The American with 22 points per game, to 13 points, the Bulls looked to 6-foot-1 forward senior forward Alisia Jenkins, who scored 18 points and pulled down 16 rebounds.
Jenkins’ effort helped South Florida outrebound Temple 49-35 and outscore the Owls 14-9 in second chance points.
“There were times in the game where we just did erratic things,” Cardoza said. “When you’re in foul trouble, it’s tough for you to continue your style of play. So we had to back off a little and play a little weary.”
Four Temple players scored in double-figures. Fitzgerald scored 16, Atkinson had 15 and sophomore guards Donnaizha Fountain had 13 and Alliya Butts finished with 11. However, Temple was outscored 11-2 with points coming from the bench.
In the first meeting, when the Owls defeated South Florida 68-66 Feb. 6, the Bulls scored 18 points inside the paint and had six points off turnovers. On Saturday, South Florida had 28 points inside and 12 off Temple’s mistakes.
“We were trying to play with guys we don’t normally play with,” Cardoza said. “Even outside of the foul situation, we could have been smarter in the shot selection.”
Temple entered Saturday’s game looking to take over the No. 2 spot in The American’s standings with a head-to-head advantage over the Bulls.
If the Owls win their final regular season game at home against Central Florida Feb. 29, they will clinch the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
“We’re in a situation where we’re being talked about,” Cardoza said. “If we won this game, it would have been a positive. Not to say that it’s over for us, but we’re in a situation where we’re crossing our fingers and hoping that things can work out for us.”
Mark McCormick can be reached at email@example.com or by Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.