As the Owls took the floor against Connecticut, the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 Poll, in front of a nationally televised audience and sold out crowd of 3,392, they wanted to give their fans a game.
In the first half, Temple kept pace with the Huskies, but UConn pulled away in the second half on its way to a 85-60 victory on Sunday afternoon at McGonigle Hall.
“We knew we were going up against the giant,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “That’s the first time I’ve been here since coaching against them that we put up a solid fight.”
For the first four minutes, Temple put itself ahead 8-6 after falling into a quick 4-0 deficit less than a minute into the game.
“We were pressuring them and that’s what we wanted to do,” sophomore guard Alliya Butts said. “We tried to get open baskets and score in transition.”
But after three turnovers and a four-point play in the next five UConn scoring plays, the Huskies quickly took a 19-8 lead and led 23-16 at the end of the first quarter.
With seven minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Donnaizha Fountain hit two free throws and blocked Huskies’ senior forward Breanna Stewart’s only missed shot inside the paint for the first half.
The sophomore guard then hit a 3-pointer in the right corner on the Owls’ following possession to give Temple a 28-27 lead with 6:39 remaining in first half.
And in that moment, Fountain believed the Owls were within reach.
“Yeah, I did, especially when the game got rolling,” Fountain said. “All we kept stressing was that we need to play uptempo basketball and it leads to great things.”
Right as Temple regained momentum, the Huskies physicality wore on the Owls.
After senior guard Erica Covile tied the score at 30 with 4:08 remaining, the Owls turned the ball over three times and shot 0-for-7 from the field to fall into a 10-point deficit at halftime that would extend into the third quarter.
“They can just recover so quickly,” Cardoza said. “Their defense is so strong.”
In the last meeting between the two, the Huskies outscored Temple 46-22 inside the paint and outrebounded the Owls 32-18. On Sunday, the Huskies narrowly outrebounded Temple 41-38 but outscored the Owls 54-26 in the paint.
“For three-and-a-half quarters, we really competed,” Cardoza said. “There were a couple of opportunities that we had, where there was 50-50 balls that we could have secured.”
Stewart scored 18 of her 24 point inside the paint.
“I think size had a lot to do with it mainly,” Fountain said. “Trying to rebound and box out with way bigger guys. It had a lot to do with size.”
As the second half continued, Temple refused to go away. Sophomore guard Khadijah Berger broke a three minute dry spell between the two teams in the fourth quarter to pull Temple within 11 with 7:17 left.
“Going into the locker room, we had to continue to fight. We can’t be OK with being down 10,” Cardoza said. “I felt like we approached that in the third quarter and cut the deficit and continued to play hard.”
The Huskies went on a 6-0 run in the next 90 seconds to give UConn a 70-53 lead, which forced Temple to take a timeout. After the timeout, the Huskies outscored Temple 15-7 for the remainder of the game.
Mark McCormick can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MarkJMcCormick