Owls’ defense key for AAC tournament

Temple’s defense is allowing just 57.2 points per game during their last five contests.

Freshman guard Jasha Clinton dribbles the ball down the court during the Owls' game against the University of South Florida at McGonigle Hall on Feb. 24. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Going into this season, Temple University women’s basketball (10-10, 10-7 The American Athletic Conference) looked to improve a defense that allowed the most points per game in The American last year.

So far, the team’s focused on putting more pressure on ball handlers on the perimeter in hopes of minimizing open 3-point shots and creating more turnovers before opposing teams can get inside the paint.

“That’s the main thing we work on in practice,” said freshman guard Jasha Clinton. “We watch film on specifically what exact spots to be in.”

Temple’s defense is learning to be more aggressive while not drawing fouls by effectively fighting through screens and attacking ball handlers with multiple defenders. With its inconsistent offense, Temple will need to rely on this type of defense to have a chance of winning games in the upcoming American Athletic Conference Tournament. 

Since being blown out at home by Houston (15-6, 12-4, The American) 89-52 on Feb. 10, Temple has allowed an average of just 57.2 points per game, compared to a season average of 66.8 points per game. 

In The American this year, the Owls rank seventh in scoring defense, sixth in field goal percentage defense, seventh in 3-point percentage defense and seventh in steals. Last season, Temple ranked last in scoring defense, 10th in 3-point field goal percentage defense and last in steals. 

“I definitely feel like we’ve made strides defensively in our last couple of efforts, I definitely feel like we’re working a bit harder,” said head coach Tonya Cardoza. 

Each of The American’s top three teams — South Florida, Central Florida and Houston — excel in 3-point shooting. If Temple has any hope of winning the AAC tournament, the Owls will have to guard these teams well on the perimeter. 

There are a few plays from the past five games that show just what Temple can do when it executes its defense well.

Against USF (15-2, 12-1 The American) on Feb. 24, Temple frequently switched on and fought through screens on the same possession, forcing the Bulls to operate near the sidelines throughout the game. This opened up chances for sophomore guard Asonah Alexander to poke the ball loose and help force shot clock violations. 

Alexander is second on the team in steals this season with 29. 

Senior forward Mia Davis and junior forward Alexa Willamson aren’t as strong at protecting the rim because they focus more on offense. Temple sends aggressive double teams to disrupt their opponents’ guards so Davis and Williamson can defend away from the rim. 

“We just have to be smart and know our personnel,” Davis said. 

With four minutes and 40 seconds left in the first quarter against ECU, Williamson attacked the ball handler off the screen, forcing a rushed pass that was easily picked off by graduate student guard Jada Graves. 

The key to playing aggressive defense is for Clinton and Alexander to be physical without getting in foul trouble. 

In Temple’s most recent game against Memphis (4-13, 2-10 The American) on March 2, Clinton recorded zero fouls, Alexander recorded just one and Graves had three. 

With six minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter against Tulsa on Feb. 17, instead of picking up a defender in transition, Alexander followed the ball handler and poked the ball out toward her teammates, leading to an easy layup in transition for the Owls. 

Defensive plays like this one will help the Owls consistently create high percentage shot opportunities. Temple is only averaging 13.9 points off of turnovers per game this season, while the Owls are allowing opponents to score 19.2 points off turnovers. Although Temple’s offense is inconsistent, an improvement in this area will help them become more efficient.  

In Temple’s game against Memphis on March 2, with nine minutes and 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Clinton never took her eyes off the opposing rebounders’ eyes and waited for the right time to deflect the pass, saving the possession for Temple. 

Clinton leads the team in steals this season with 34 and ranks 13th in the AAC, averaging 1.7 steals per game. 

“[Clinton] has become smarter in the sense that she’s learning to pick her spots where she can be super aggressive on the ball handler and when she needs to back off,” Cardoza said. 

If the Owls want to make any noise in The American Conference Tournament, they must continue this type of defensive effort without getting in foul trouble. 

With the conference tournament starting next week, the Owls are hitting their defensive stride at just the right time. 

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