Villanova has had Temple’s number in recent seasons.
The Wildcats have not lost to the Owls since Dec. 19, 2010. With a 3-7 record entering the game, it looked like Villanova was vulnerable for an upset bid by the Owls.
However, Temple was once again unable to solve its Big 5 rival. Falling behind in the first half, the Owls made a comeback late in the game, but they could not quite dig themselves out of the early hole as they fell, 64-59, on Monday.
“They’re a tough team that when they score early and get a good lead it’s hard to come back, but I thought our guys fought,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “Down the stretch we were down 16 points and I had three freshmen on the floor and they played with so much passion, so much determination that they cut the lead to [five].”
The Owls came into the game off their best shooting night of the season. In their win against Howard on Thursday night, they shot 44 percent from the floor. That did not carry over to the first half of Monday’s game as they shot just more than 17 percent.
The Wildcats’ defense played a factor, blocking six shots in the half, but Temple missed several easy chances down low that could have made it a closer score at the break. The easy chances included a number of layups the Owls were unable to finish.
Cardoza said those opportunities that her team failed to convert turned the tide of the game.
“If we make layups the whole game is different,” Cardoza said. “Then we’re playing with so much more confidence and maybe they don’t make some of their shots. But again, we lost the game because we missed easy shots that we would normally make.”
The second half was a different story for the Owls, as they found more promising results when they got good looks inside. The team shot 50 percent from the field in the final frame of the contest.
Despite the Owls’ improved showing in the second half, Villanova also continued to make shots. With 3 minutes, 33 seconds left in the game and three freshmen on the floor, Temple found itself down by 14 points.
Freshman Tanaya Atkinson, Alliya Butts and Khadijah Berger made big plays as they tried to comeback from a nearly impossible deficit.
Atkinson and Butts, who combined for 26 second half points, willed the team back to within five, but the large lead was too much to overcome.
For Atkinson, things have really started to click as of late. The 5-foot-9 guard has posted scoring totals of 16, 22 and 22 in her last three contests while shooting more than 65 percent over that time frame.
Cardoza was impressed by the play of her younger players down the stretch and sees it as a positive trend moving forward.
“Freshman usually can’t play against Villanova, but I think the fact that they were out there and they were able to do some really good things, I think that’s going to carry over for them,” Cardoza said.
Temple (4-8) will kick off conference play against Memphis on Sunday.
Safiyah Martin continued to sit out with an ankle injury Monday. She is expected to be back next week, Cardoza said. … Taylor Robinson was only able to log three minutes for the Owls. Villanova’s unique style of play with five players who can make shots from the perimeter made it hard for Robinson to defend … Despite a rough shooting night Erica Covile logged her second double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.