The women’s basketball team captured its first ever Atlantic 10 Championship with a 63-58 win over Saint Joseph’s at the Liacouras Center on Monday. The Owls gained an automatic NCAA Tournament bid with the win. Temple last appeared in the Big Dance in 1989.
“We stayed together and came in there, executed and did what we were supposed to do,” senior center Athena Christoforakis said. “Because of practice and working hard towards our goals, we were able to accomplish them.”
Junior point guard Stacey Smalls was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. She averaged 13.3 points per game and 4.3 apg and played nearly every minute of the tournament, including the entire 45 minutes in the Owls’ semifinal overtime win over UMass.
Senior center Lisa Jakubowicz and Smalls were also named to the All-Tournament team. Jakubowicz played the best ball of her career against St. Joe’s. She finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game.
“She’s probably the one that has made the biggest improvement,” Temple coach Dawn Staley said. “Last year at this time I guarantee you Lisa is not where she is today.”
Jakubowicz played gutsy throughout the game with key blocks, a few steals, clutch rebounds and tough shots. She and Christoforakis teamed up to hold Susan Moran, St. Joe’s leading scorer and A-10 Player of the Year, to 14 points.
Jakubowicz and Christoforakis disrupted Moran’s game and limited her touches in the first half. Moran visited the free-throw line a mere eight times.
Christoforakis finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, four steals and one blocked shot.
“She stuck with the game plan and came up huge for us on both ends of the floor. And she led us in the post, both her and Lisa,” Staley said.
Temple’s route to the A-10 title started with a 78-50 win over Duquense in the quarterfinals. The Owls then faced UMass in the semifinals in what turned out to be the second overtime thriller against the Minutewomen this season.
Senior guard Natalia Isaac connected on all four free throw attempts in overtime and gave the Owls six points in the extra period in a 67-61 win.
Temple had everything working in their favor at the tournament. The Owls showed several defenses in all three games, including a 3-2 zone that rattled the UMass offense.
The Owls also used its patented full court press and half court presses with its guards creating havoc for opponents trying to start their offense.
Temple blended quick outlets off rebounds and crisp passing to give its shooters open looks at the baskets.
Isaac, Smalls, Toni Belafonte, Christena Hamilton and Regan Apo were all able to connect on key shots from superb ball movement around the perimeter.
Staley got the best out of her squad this past weekend. Her players used the tactics and skills learned throughout the season and applied them when it counted most down the stretch.
“What it boils down to is working hard, being committed to something. You can see if you put in a little hard work, be diligent at it and you’re consistent with it, good things can happen,” Staley said.
All Temple can do now is wait for Selection Sunday to see which team they will face in the opening round of the NCAA’s.
The team reached its goals of winning the Big 5 and the A-10 titles, and now there is only one left to claim.
“We’re happy to be there,” said Isaac of reaching the NCAA tournament. “But when we get there we’re not going to just be happy to be there, we’re going to go out there and play to win.”