A 4-7 non-conference record is not impressive by any means. But right now, a 6-0 Atlantic Ten record has propelled the women’s basketball team to atop the conference standings.
“We take it one game at a time,” coach Dawn Staley said. “In the process, we work on things that will help us win along the way. The more prepared for your games, the better off you are. My team knows it. My players know it. It makes the game easier.”
Here’s how the women’s basketball team stacks up halfway through their season:
Guards: Cynthia Jordan and Christena Hamilton run a veteran backcourt. Jordan, in her first year as the starting point guard, has shown good court vision and is leading the team with 4.2 assists per game. She is also among the team leaders in three-point field goal percentage. Hamilton, the seasoned veteran of the two, is the motivational leader of the team.
At season’s start, Hamilton was averaging double figures in scoring, but taking fewer shots has dropped her season average to nine points per game. Whether driving the lane or shooting the three-pointer, Hamilton is everything a coach could want in a versatile shooting guard.
Forwards: At the forward position is the prototypical tale of two players – one is a defensive leader, while the other comes alive on the offensive end. Ari Moore is the latter, a good complement to a young, talented offensive unit. Second on the team in steals and fourth in points, Moore, a junior, has come alive of late. By hitting shots when they matter most, especially against A-10 opponents, Moore has broken what seemed to be a season-long slump.
Moore has averaged 11 ppg in A-10 play.
Senior Toni Belafonte has been quite the opposite. With the ability to guard at almost any position, Belafonte has defended against opponents’ top scoring threats, but has only played a combined 22 minutes in the last two games.
Center: No one has been more vital to the team’s success than sophomore center Candice Dupree. Leading the team in scoring (14.8 ppg), rebounds (7.5 rbg) and blocks (1.7 bpg), Dupree has been a force on both ends of the floor. Opposing teams have focused on stopping Dupree at the high post to keep her from getting down low, but her numbers do not show any changes.
Miscues at the free-throw line are her only set back, but Dupree said it’s in the corrective stage. “I’ve been working on [free throws] a lot more in practice,” Dupree said. “It’s starting to get easier. I’m changing up my shot just a little bit.”
Bench: Britney Jordan, the highest ranked freshman recruit in Big 5 history, is the reigning A-10 Rookie of the Week. Averaging 15 ppg in the team’s last four contests, Jordan seems to have found an offensive rhythm. Jordan presents a three-point threat and hit 4-of-10 from behind the arc in an overtime win against Richmond last Friday.
Senior Tynecia Pam knows her role on the team. Pam has collected 5.8 rbg in only 21 minutes per game coming off the bench. Among the conference leaders in offensive rebounds, Pam, a 6-foot forward, has an on-court demeanor like no other.
Kamesha Hairston is a final component to the team’s offensive schemes. Like Jordan, Hairston was named to the conference’s preseason All-Rookie team, is also finding her shot, and set a career-high in points (11) against Rhode Island. Hairston has been difficult to defend, mixing her perimeter shooting with an inside game as well.
Overall: The Owls are currently atop the A-10 standings, and all potential upsets aside, Temple looks poised to win the conference. The premier match up of the second half is game two of the season series against St. Joseph’s Feb. 19 at the Liacouras Center. The Owls won the first game, a 62-61 overtime shootout, at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse this past Sunday afternoon.
Team grade: A-
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.