Temple earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play No. 9 seed James Madison in Norfolk, Va., Sunday.
Forgive coach Tonya Cardoza if she starts accidentally writing 2009 on her checks. After all, a year later, the women’s basketball team is in an eerily similar position to the one it was in last March.
Monday, Temple (24-8 overall, 11-3 Atlantic Ten Conference) drew the No. 8 seed in the Dayton Regional of the 2010 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship. The Owls will face No. 9 James Madison (26-6 overall, 13-5 Colonial Athletic Association) Sunday in Norfolk, Va. If the Owls beat the Dukes, they would face No. 1 Connecticut in the second round, assuming the Huskies win their 73rd straight game by defeating No. 16 seed Southern University.
Last year, the Cherry and White drew the No. 9 seed in the Trenton Regional. They lost to No. 8 Florida in the first round. If they had defeated the Gators, the Owls would have faced UConn in the second round.
Cardoza, who was an assistant coach at UConn from 1994-2008, admitted feeling a bit out of sorts about the way things repeated themselves.
“There actually was some [déjà vu],” Cardoza said. “Waiting until the last bracket and seeing Connecticut and us right there with them was definitely déjà vu.”
Even with UConn looming, the Owls need to stay focused on beating their first-round opponent. JMU has some impressive wins this year, including victories against Georgetown and No. 14 Virginia.
Leading the way for the Dukes is junior guard Dawn Evans, who leads the team with 24.8 points per game. Few are more efficient at scoring than Evans, who finished tied for third nationally in scoring. She also leads the Dukes with 4.7 assists per game. Freshman guard Tarik Hislop is second on the squad with 10.2 points per game.
The Dukes like to force their opponents to turn the ball over. Four of their five starters, including Richmond transfer Sarah Williams, average a steal or more per game. Williams ranks among CAA leaders with 1.5 steals per game.
“James Madison is a really good team,” Cardoza said. “They’re a tough team with an All-American player. They have some good post players, and their coach does a really good job. [Evans] runs their team. She’s looking to push the tempo. She can shoot the ball from deep, so you can’t sag off of her, but she can go by you as well.”
Temple fell to No. 5 Xavier, 57-55, in the A-10 Championship last week and had to depend on an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament rather than an automatic berth. Still, just reaching the A-10 Championship game should have helped the Owls move higher than an 8 seed, Cardoza said.
“I’m not [happy with the seeding],” Cardoza said. “I thought maybe getting to the championship game of the A-10 we might have bumped ourselves up to a 7 seed. Not that it would have been an easier matchup, but [an 8-9 matchup]can go either way. Like I said, JMU is a good team, so it’s going to be a tough battle for both teams.”
“I had a feeling that they would put us in the UConn bracket,” sophomore forward Kristen McCarthy said. “We’re excited just to make the Tournament. We’re fortunate. There are a lot of teams that aren’t even in the Tournament at all. It’s exciting.”
The loss to the Musketeers still lingers in McCarthy’s mind. When Xavier received a No. 3 seed in the Tournament, the California native let loose a loud display of emotion that drew laughter from her teammates and a look of shock from her coach. While the loss was disheartening at first, the team will use it as motivation, McCarthy said.
“It still hurts,” McCarthy said. “I still think about it every day, and it still upsets me. I think that’s going to motivate us even more. We lost by two in overtime to a great team. I definitely think if we can play with Xavier like that, then we can play with any team.”
For players like senior forward Jasmine Stone and senior guard LaKeisha Eaddy, this is the last chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
“There are a lot of different emotions,” Eaddy said. “I know that this is my last chance to try to make a Sweet 16 or an Elite Eight. You tell the [freshmen on the team] that this is an experience and not everybody gets to play in the NCAA Tournament. You have to go out there and play like it’s your last because it could potentially be your last game of the season.”
Tipoff is set for 30 minutes after the UConn – Southern game ends at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.