With its double-digit lead cut to four points and the momentum shifting, Temple senior Tyonna Williams took control of the game.
With six minutes remaining in the second half, the guard hit a pair of free throws, converted a fast-break layup and assisted on an Erica Covile jump shot to put the Owls ahead by double digits and on their way to a third straight win, defeating Houston 56-43 Monday in the team’s regular-season finale.
The Fort Washington, Maryland native, coming off a 13-point performance in Saturday’s senior-night victory against East Carolina, scored 13 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out a team-high four assists in her final regular season game as an Owl.
“That is what she is supposed to do,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “She is a senior, a leader and she wants to make sure we finish on a high note. She stepped up and did what she needed to do to make sure of team was successful.”
But just 10 minutes earlier, Williams was a catalyst in another crucial moment for the Owls.
With 17 minutes remaining in the second half with a 23-19 lead, Covile was whistled for her third foul and Cardoza elected to sub her out.
Williams, with the help of freshman Tanaya Atkinson and her game-high 15 points and eight rebounds, helped the Owls extend their lead while the team’s leading scorer was on the bench.
When Covile, who scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds, returned with 11 minutes remaining, the Owls had extended their lead to nine points.
“I felt that Tanaya stepped up, [Tyonna] stepped up,” Cardoza said. “It is unfortunate that [Covile] picked up that foul, but those guys did not miss a beat.”
Defensively, the Owls used a mix of 2-3 zone and man-to-man coverage to stifle the Cougars.
Temple held Houston to 14 percent shooting from 3-point range and set a season record, holding the Cougars to 27 percent from the field.
With a short bench and foul trouble, Cardoza knew she needed to use more zone to help keep her team fresh.
“We knew it was going to be difficult to run around and chase them because they were setting a lot of ball screens, and we were having a difficult time defending them at some points,” Cardoza said. “So, [we were] just trying to change it up and keep them off-balance.”
Temple, which won five of its final six regular-season contests, finished the season 16-15 overall and 12-6 in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls tied Tulsa for third place in the American standings after being predicted to finish sixth in the conference’s preseason poll.
After starting the season 3-7 and letting games “slip away,” Cardoza, despite saying the regular season did not turn out the way she thought it would, was proud of the way her team finished the season.
“I felt like early, defensively, we weren’t as committed,” Cardoza said. “We could have easily thrown in the towel the way we started the season, but we found something within ourselves and committed ourselves to being a better basketball team every day.”
With the conference tournament starting on March 6, the Owls — who enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed — will play East Carolina March 7 at noon.
Tyonna Williams is seven points away from 1,000 for her career … Monday marked the second time in a week that the Owls won a game in Texas … If the Owls defeat East Carolina, they could face the defending national champion, Connecticut, in the semifinal. The Huskies would have to win their own quarterfinal against the winner of Central Florida and Cincinnati in a first-round contest … Covile finished the season with nine double-doubles … Freshman Alliya Butts, who averaged 12.9 points per game in the regular season, finished the season as the team’s leading scorer.
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.