WASHINGTON, D.C. – No team wants to go into the postseason with a loss.
But when two conference rivals, who are both undefeated in league play, meet on the final day of the regular season, somebody has to go home unhappy.
And when the final buzzer sounded at the Charles E. Smith Center Sunday, the Owls were the ones shaking their heads in disappointment.
They will enter this week’s Atlantic Ten Conference tournament as the No. 2 seed after a 56-53 loss to George Washington, then the No. 9-ranked team in the nation. Temple (23-6 overall) finished the season
with a 13-1 conference record. Although the Colonials (25-2, 14-0) earned the No. 1 seed, the road to the conference title still goes through Temple, senior Kamesha Hairston said.
“We’re still A-10 champs,” Hairston said. “That’s really all I can say. We know that when tournament time comes, we step it up.”Now, the real season begins. Temple will play the winner of the Massachusetts (17-12, 7-7) versus St. Bonaventure (15-14, 5-9) game Saturday at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati. The Owls beat both squads during the regular season. The Owls are attempting to win their fourth consecutive A-10 title. If they do, they’ll tie an A-10 record and make their fourth-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think people in this league know what this team brings,” coach Dawn Staley said. “Certainly, this group is a relentless defensive group that continues to grow and continues to raise eyebrows all around the country.”
George Washington coach Joe McKeown said Temple is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
“One thing I give them credit for, us and them, is that we’ve gone out the last four or five years and tried to play anybody
that would play us,” McKeown said. “They go out and play a great schedule and I think that will hold up.”
Temple was ranked 38th in Ratings Percentage Index through Feb. 18, according to NCAA.com. RPI is a rating system that calculates winning percentage, strength of schedule and opponent strength of schedule, among other factors.
George Washington and Xavier are the only other A-10 teams that rank higher than Temple in RPI at 12th and 29th, respectively.
Temple, George Washington and Xavier,
which earned the No. 3 seed for the A-10 tournament, each have at least 20 wins.
“To me, 20 wins is always a good number
to put up,” McKeown said. “I think our league right now, to be honest with you, is a little underrated. But us, Temple and Xavier, all deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Owls didn’t exactly look like an NCAA Tournament-caliber team at the beginning of the season, starting the season at 4-4 after dropping games to Bowling Green and Atlantic Coast Conference teams Virginia, N.C. State and Maryland.
“We knew that the beginning of the season would be tough,” Hairston said. “But we thought that with the schedule we had and the teams we played that when it came time for conference play, we felt pretty confident about playing [other A-10 teams].”
Sure enough, the Owls ran through the A-10 portion of their schedule until meeting up with George Washington. The Owls won 19 of their last 21 games after starting the season at .500 and established
two lengthy winning streaks of 11 and eight games.
Colonials junior Sarah-Jo Lawrence, who scored 19 points against the Owls Sunday,
has noticed a difference between this year’s Temple team and the squad that beat George Washington in last year’s A-10 Championship game.
“I think last year they had more of an inside presence,” Lawrence said. “This year, it’s more guard-[oriented]. They’re very good at going to the boards.”
Temple outrebounded the Colonials, 48-27, but missed 8-of-15 free throws in the second half and failed to convert several crucial layups. The Owls shot only 35 percent from the field during Sunday’s loss.
They also committed 15 of their 19 turnovers in the first half, and were whistled for a couple of traveling calls, a pair of shot clock violations and a five-second inbounding
Senior Fatima Maddox said the Owls need to “take our time a little bit more, focus a little bit more and make those little chippies,” before the A-10 tournament tips off this weekend.
Maddox said playing in such a big game on the road might have affected some of the younger players on the team.Staley agreed.
“I don’t think they know exactly what the rivalry is with us and George Washington,”
Staley said. “They got a good glimpse of it today. And it’s good they’ve been in this environment, so when we’re faced with that again, we’ll be ready.”
The Owls might be in the same type of environment against George Washington if everything plays out for both schools. Staley and her players said they are looking forward to a potential rematch.
“Hopefully, we can meet again somewhere down the line within the next week or so,” Staley said. If they do, this time it will be Monday for the A-10 Championship.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.