WASHINGTON – Upon entering this season, junior guard Jennifer Owens was regarded as a team player. Women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley said Owens was always more willing to pass the ball than shoot it.
Owens gave her team some breathing room with her shooting Sunday, as the No. 16 Owls escaped with a 64-61 win over Xavier in the Atlantic Ten Conference semifinals. The Owls will take on George Washington on Monday for the conference championship at the Colonials’ Smith Center.
With 4:15 to go in the second half and the score knotted at 55, Owens was left open in transition. She hit a three-pointer from the right corner to give the Owls (26-3) a lead they would not relinquish. Up to that point, the Musketeers and the Owls traded the lead for much of the second half. Owens’ shot was what Staley was looking for all game, the coach said.
“We had been telling Jen to shoot the ball. We never told her to stop shooting,” Staley said. “It surprised me that she took that shot. I’m glad she stepped up and had the guts to take that shot.”
The Musketeers (20-9) opened the game in zone defense and switched to man intermittently. Staley said the Owls prepared for both defenses, but were frustrated when they were held to so few looks in the paint. Still, the Owls persisted, and junior center Candice Dupree managed to score a game-high 24 points. She also hauled in nine rebounds.
Xavier forward Tara Boothe made Dupree’s night tough with her defense, and senior forward Ari Moore returned the favor for the Owls. Boothe’s jumper from the left side at the start of the second half was her first basket of the game. Moore held Boothe, an all-America candidate who averages 19.7 points per game, to 0-for-6 shooting in the first half.
“I never thought I would hold a player like Boothe without a field goal in the first half,” Moore said. “I get up for games when I’m playing someone like Boothe.”
Moore played a significant role in the second half as well. With the Owls leading, 62-59, she drew a charge from Boothe. The Owls scored on two of their next three possessions to put the game out of reach.
The Owls led for the entire first half, heading into halftime ahead, 34-28. In the second, the lead changed six times and the score was tied five times. The Musketeers took their first lead of the game with a 6-0 run early in the second half. Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said the game was reminiscent of the teams’ match-up Jan. 30. In that game, the Musketeers were done in by a Temple layup as time expired. McGuff said this time around was much of the same.
“In that one, and in this one, they did more things down the stretch in the last three minutes to give themselves the win than we did,” McGuff said.
IN THE NUMBERS
The Owls’ win on Sunday marked Staley’s 100th coaching victory in her five-year career. The win was also the Owls’ 18th straight win against A-10 teams, and 23rd straight victory overall. The Owls haven’t lost to a conference opponent in over a calendar year. They were defeated at George Washington on Feb. 29, 2004.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.