Louisville defense stifles Owl guards

Louisville coach Jeff Walz said that Temple guards Feyonda Fitzgerald and Tyonna Williams were “the two to make their team go.”

Holding a trio of Temple’s starting guards under double figures, including a scoreless Feyonda Fitzgerald, the No. 7 Cardinals defeated the Owls 77-68 in McGonigle Hall on Wednesday evening.

“They were the better team,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “You have to do almost everything right. You can’t make careless mistakes.”

With the loss, Temple (7-5, 1-1) has incurred its first American Athletic Conference defeat after opening the conference’s first season with a victory against Memphis. Since beginning the season 3-0, the Owls have failed to win consecutive games, losing five of their last nine. Louisville (14-1, 2-0) continues to pick up victories, winning seven consecutive games.

Temple’s leading scorer this season, freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, was held to zero points for the first time in her career, coming up empty on three shot attempts and turning the ball over four times in 13 minutes played. Due to foul trouble and the coaches decision, Fitzgerald was benched for more than half of the first period and all but two minutes in the second period.

“She’s a freshman and she played like a freshman today,” Cardoza said.

Scoring was a challenge for Temple’s veteran starting guards as well. Junior Tyonna Williams and fifth-year senior Shi-Heria Shipp were held to three and six points respectively. The duo attempted eight total field goals and recorded one rebound each.

For the fifth time this season, senior forward Natasha Thames recorded a team-high in points, scoring 24 on 10 of 15 shooting. Grabbing nine rebounds, Thames was also one rebound shy of a double double. Sophomore guard Erica Covile added 12 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Meghan Roxas chipped in with seven points off the bench.

In place of the struggling Fitzgerald, redshirt-sophomore guard Monaye Merritt had a career day, recording 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals, which were all career-highs. Merritt missed all of the previous season with a torn ACL.

“I do feel like I’m getting my legs back under me,” Merritt said. “It felt good to be able to come in and contribute to the team. That’s what’s most important.”

For Louisville, redshirt-senior forward Asia Taylor led her team with 18 points, eight rebounds, and three steals. Junior guard Bria Smith recorded 13 points and a game-high four steals. Senior guard Shoni Schimmel added 15 points and junior forward Sara Hammond scored 11. Redshirt-senior guard Tia Gibbs recorded nine points off of the bench.

In the first two minutes of game, Louisville held a 1-0 lead but a three point field goal by Covile would put Temple ahead for the first time in the game. Ahead 3-1 with 18:26 remaining in the first period, Temple held a lead for the first and last time against the Cardinals.

Hammon and Smith created a 6-0 run with three consecutive close range baskets, grabbing a 7-3 lead with 16:14 remaining in the half.

After nearly nine minutes of play, with Louisville ahead 15-11, Fitzgerald was subbed out after receiving her second foul and committing four turnovers in 11 minutes. Out of the media timeout, Merritt found Thames for the short range shot, cutting the deficit to two.

Thames and Merritt scored four more points for the Owls, but Louisville continued to find the basket, leading 19-17 after a Thames jumper with 4:50 remaining in the period.
Up 20-17 after a Taylor free throw, Louisville finished the period outscoring Temple 11-4, including an unanswered run of five points from the free throw line in the final minutes. In the first half, Louisville shot 9 of 12 from the free throw line while Temple attempted two free throws in that time. Louisville held a 31-21 halftime lead.

“In the first half, we were doing some pretty good thing defensively but we didn’t capitalize on the other end,” Cardoza said. “You have to capitalize on opportunities when you have them.”

The Cardinals began the second period like they ended the first period, scoring more unanswered points. Recording nine unanswered points in the first two minutes of the second period, Louisville went on a 14-0 run, which began with 1:25 remaining in the first half, to take a 40-21 lead.
In the first two minutes of second half, Fitzgerald was back on the floor for the Owls, but after two more fouls, she was benched in favor of Merritt.

“Honestly, I just didn’t think that today was [Fitzgerald’s] day,” Cardoza said. “The fouls that she committed let me know that her head was someplace else. Monaye has had some really good practices. She stepped in, and the way she played today, is the way she’s been practicing. So, we were fortunate that [Merritt] was able to step in and play really good basketball for us.”

With 14:29 remaining, Thames followed a Merritt three pointer with a layup, bringing Temple within 13 points. Temple looked poised to ride the momentum of the 5-0 run, but consecutive turnovers by Williams and Thames led to two consecutive fast-break baskets for Louisville.

After the Williams and Thames turnovers, Louisville led by 17 and wouldn’t lead by any less than 14 for the next 12 minutes of play.
With 1:08 remaining in regulation, Williams made a three-point shot, followed by another three pointer by Roxas, and a Merritt jump shot, which brought the Louisville lead down to 77-68 with 18 seconds remaining. Despite the shots made in the final seconds, Temple’s comeback fell short as Louisville drained the clock on their final possession.

Though Temple recorded 25 turnovers compared to Louisville’s 20, the Cardinals registered 27 points off of turnovers while Temple scored 10. Louisville also held the advantage in second chance points, outscoring Temple 17-10.

“We turned the basketball over and we let them get offensive rebounds,” Cardoza said. “You’re playing against the seventh ranked team. You can’t have mistakes like that.

Brien Edwards can be reached at brien.erick.edwards@temple.edu or on Twitter @BErick1123.

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