For a split second, Natalia Isaac was the only thing that mattered.
At half-court of the Liacouras Center, Isaac was airborne. Her arms pumping, her legs leaping, the record crowd focused all of their cheers on her.
It was a huge crowd that gathered to watch Isaac make a game winning, last second, overtime three-pointer to beat UMass 72-69 last Friday night. There were two professional football players, four Olympic gold medallists and 2,263 fans–a new Temple record for women’s basketball.
And all of them were cheering for Isaac.
“It feels good,” she said. “We pulled together in the end…we just showed that we could win.”
Isaac broke three other Liacouras Center records along with the women’s attendance mark. She made 12 field goals, eight three-pointers and a sensational 38 points.
Her 38 points are just three shy of the women’s record set by Marilyn Stephens (41) in 1983.
The Owls fell behind early in the Senior Night game and didn’t grab a lead until the final minute of regulation. Isaac hit a three-pointer to give Temple a 55-54 lead.
The Minutewomen’s Kathy Coner made one free throw with 25 seconds left to give UMass a 57-55 lead. At the other end of the court, however, she fouled Stacey Smalls. Smalls made her free throws and tied the score at 57.
Jennifer Butler and Caroline Nehls each had last-second chances to win the game for UMass but couldn’t come up with the lay-ups at the end of regulation.
The crowd, including Philadelphia Eagle Troy Vincent and former Washington Redskin and Temple football player Tre Johnson, stood up and took a deep breath.
“My legs were probably up in the air,” coach Dawn Staley said about the last second UMass attempts. “I’m not going to say I was praying for her to miss it; I just wanted an opportunity to win the game when the ball was in our hand.
“It’s kinda’ hard to hold back when you look at someone about to take the last shot on you.”
The Owls led by four 2:20 into the overtime after Isaac’s first points of the extra period. A turnover by the star of the night, however, set up a lead changing three-pointer by Paige Harris.
Then with a 69-66 Temple lead, Coyner hit a three with nine seconds left.
“I was going to call a timeout to set up something,” Staley said. “A team is most vulnerable on the transition. I thought we took advantage of penetrating when we had them on their heels.”
Temple point guard Stacey Smalls brought the ball up court and kicked it out to Isaac who, with two seconds left in the game, let a shot go.
“It felt good when I shot it,” she said. “Stacey brought the ball up so I ran, she drove, she kicked it back out and I made it.”
Isaac then ran to half-court, and with the entire crowd transfixed on her, leaped higher than she ever thought she could leap.
“It seemed like everything she shot went in,” Staley said. “When you’re feeling it like that you go for broke.
“I’m at a loss for words for that performance. I’ve seen (Olympian and WNBA star) Sheryl Swoopes, Theresa Edwards, Ruthie Bolton-Holifield, I’ve seen them all, but that’s a performance right up there that I witnessed with my own eyes. Natalia will take that in her memory banks.”
So will Edwards.
“It’s exciting because the adrenaline was pumping and when you want something so much for a person you can feel it just as much as they did if not more,” said Staley’s Olympic teammate Edwards of the game and her relationship with Temple’s coach.
Edwards, along with DeLisha Milton and Katie Smith, were on hand to cheer on Staley, their Olympic gold medal winning teammate.
Athena Christoforakis added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Owls in their season finale, while Coyner led the Minutewomen with 16 points.
“That was a great game,” Staley said. “The game could have gone either way, but it was a great game to get under our belts and to take into the Atlantic 10 tournament.”