When the Temple and Xavier women’s basketball teams clash at the Liacouras Center Saturday night, there will likely be a regular season championship and No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Ten Tournament on the line.
Both teams are undefeated in the conference this season, but Sunday’s season finale will decide who truly owns the A-10 heading into the tournament next month.
“They’re a really good team,” coach Tonya Cardoza said of No. 6 Xavier. “We know that it’s going to be a battle because there’s a championship on the line, but I know that we’re going to come out there and be ready to go and grab it.”
After opening the season 8-6 with a difficult non-conference schedule, the Owls have not looked back. They are now on a 14-game winning streak with 12 of those wins coming in the A-10.
The Owls have not just won but dominated that stretch, beating opponents by an average margin of 21 points since their winning streak began with an 81-60 victory over Akron.
Meanwhile, Xavier has put together a 13-game winning streak of its own and shows no sign of slowing down. The Musketeers are 23-2 overall this season with both losses coming on the road against national powerhouses Duke and Stanford.
Xavier fell to No. 7 Duke by only one point, but Temple also gave Duke a battle, losing by just seven. More recently, Owls routed the very same Dayton team that nearly defeated the Musketeers last month, but statistically the Musketeers are nothing to scoff at.
Xavier ranks second in conference in scoring, dropping an average of 75.2 points per game behind redshirt-senior forward Amber Harris, who averages an impressive 18.4 points per game.
While Harris ranks fourth in the conference in scoring, senior center Ta’Shia Phillips ranks sixth, averaging 15.6 points per game, and as a team, Xavier shoots a conference-high 46.6 percent from the floor.
“We know that in order for us to win big games, especially like this, we need post-production,” Cardoza said.
Temple’s biggest weakness this season has come at the post, which is obviously Xavier’s greatest strength. Phillips and Harris both average a double-double in the paint and rank first and second, respectively, in the conference in rebounding.
Fortunately for the Owls, they have seen significant improvement lately from center Victoria Macaulay and forward Natasha Thames. However, stopping Phillips and Harris will be an enormous test for the sophomore duo.
While Xavier has been dominant on the offensive end, the team has also been productive defensively, holding opponents to just 55.6 points per game. That gives the Musketeers a plus-19.7 scoring margin on the season, which is by far the best in the conference.
Temple will have to receive outstanding play from its scoring tandem of senior guard Qwedia Wallace and redshirt-junior guard Shey Peddy, who average 12.8 and 13.6 points, respectively. Junior forward Kristen McCarthy will also have to step up for the Owls to take pressure off Macaulay and Thames.
Assuming Temple can take care of business at St. Joseph’s on Wednesday, the showdown with Xavier is shaping up to be the biggest game of the season for the Owls.
“Of course we’re looking at the fact that it’s us and Xavier at the top of the conference right now. We’re just worried about going out and playing St. Joe’s as best we can and getting another big win,” Peddy said.