WASHINGTON – The No. 16 women’s basketball team dismantled Saint Joseph’s for the second time in two weeks Saturday, beating the Hawks, 61-51, in the quarterfinal round of the A-10 tournament. The Owls, who beat the Hawks on Feb. 27, will play Xavier today in the semifinal round.
The Hawks led early, hitting four of their first six shots against a lackadaisical Owls defense. With 14:35 remaining in the first half, coach Dawn Staley called a timeout to rehash the team’s defensive game plan.
It worked. The Hawks were held without a basket for the next 9:24, allowing the Owls to make a 19-4 run and take a 23-14 lead. Staley, who was named A-10 Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season last week, said it was important to establish the offense after a six-day layoff.
“Once we got it going, I knew we would break open the game like we did,” Staley said.
Despite having just one day to prepare for the Hawks, the Owls (25-3) showed their defensive intensity the waning moments of the first half. The Hawks (7-23) gained possession on a jump ball with three seconds remaining, but senior forward Khadija Bowens batted an attempted inbounds pass back out of bounds. Center Lady Comfort knocked away the second try, and freshman forward Nicole Pittman finally picked off the third pass to send the Owls into halftime with a 29-16 lead.
“[They] stopped them, got some deflections, and ended up getting the steal,” Staley said of the defensive stand. “That’s incredible basketball. It may not seem like anything to the fans watching but as someone who’s been around the game, that’s something I’ve never seen before.”
St. Joe’s coach Cindy Griffin said the Hawks never recovered from that series. She added that Temple senior point guard Cynthia Jordan’s play was equally discouraging.
“It all started when Jordan came into the game and scored four quick points in a matter of two minutes,” Griffin said. “They did a good job defensively, but we couldn’t get the ball inbounds or under [the net] against them.”
The Owls extended their lead to as many as 27 points with 10:59 left in the game. After Staley took out all the starters, the Hawks clawed to within nine points on two occasions over the game’s final minutes.
Junior center Candice Dupree said plugging in reserves will help the Owls later on in the tournament.
“Last week against [the Hawks], Coach pulled all of us as a confidence booster to all of our teammates coming into today,” Dupree said. “They cheer for us when we’re out there so this gives us a chance to cheer for them. It’s going to help us.”
Dupree scored a team-high 12 points and sophomore forward Kamesha Hairston added 11 points and seven rebounds. Hawks forward Ayahna Cornish scored a game-high 19 points, playing 40 minutes for the second time in two days. St. Joe’s advanced to the quarterfinal round by beating La Salle, 56-50, yesterday.
In addition to Staley’s Coach of the Year nod, three other Owls were recognized last week for their play in the regular season. Dupree was named the A-10’s Most Valuable Player, earning spots on the conference’s first team and all-defensive team. Jordan was also named to the first team.
Hairston was recognized as the conference’s Most Improved Player. She posted nearly 10 more points per game this season than in 2003-04. She was also named to the A-10 all-defense team and second team.
Hairston scored seven consecutive points in the first half. … The Hawks shot six-of-24 from the field in the first half. … Comfort, a backup center, blocked three shots in 17 minutes of play. … For the season, the Owls hit 40 percent of their three-point attempts. Against the Hawks, they hit just one of five attempts from behind the arc.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.