For the second straight season, South Florida knocked Temple out of the American Athletic Conference. The Bulls beat the Owls 63-58 in the third matchup between the two teams this season.
South Florida advances to Monday’s championship game against Connecticut, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
No. 25 Temple (24-7, 13-3 The American) played four of the five starters for at least 38 minutes in the game. Senior forward Ruth Sherrill was the lone starter who played less than 30 minutes, finishing with 21 minutes.
Temple took its first lead just more than three minutes into the first quarter but the Owls never led after South Florida regained the lead with seven minutes left in the first half.
The game ended much like the one at McGonigle Hall on Jan. 29, when Temple made a couple of late shots but couldn’t come back to win.
In January, junior guard Khadijah Berger led the late-game push. On Sunday night, junior guard Alliya Butts scored five points in the final 21 seconds for the Owls.
Butts was the only Owl who made a 3-pointer, hitting 3-of-10 attempts. Temple shot 3-for-16 from 3-point range. Senior center Safiya Martin was the only player who shot better than 50 percent from the floor. The Owls missed 37 field goal attempts and shot 39.3 percent.
“We were trying to create some dribble-penetration, but then we just started settling,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I think we were second-guessing ourselves, thinking the shot inside wasn’t gonna be open.”
“We really couldn’t get any shots to go down, and we had few defensive lapses,” she added. “It is just a tough loss for us, we really wanted to get to that championship game.”
The Owls shot poorly in both of their losses to South Florida. In January, Temple shot 25.8 percent from the floor and 18.5 percent from 3-point range.
Senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald followed up on her record-setting 30-point performance on Saturday by leading the Owls in scoring again on Sunday. She finished with 18 points and six assists in her last game in The American.
Butts added 17 points, and junior guard Tanaya Atkinson scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The trio combined for 92 percent of Temple’s scoring in the conference tournament. Temple didn’t score any bench points in its game against Houston on Saturday or against South Florida.
Now the Owls await their postseason fate. They are projected to make the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme. Tournament seeding will be announced on Selection Monday on March 13.
Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_kevinschaeffer. Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews and @TTN_Sports.