RALEIGH, N.C. – The postseason fate of
the women’s basketball team rested squarely
on the shoulders of Fatima Maddox.
Nebraska trailed Temple by one point
and was on the brink of elimination when
the Cornhuskers fouled Maddox twice within
the final minute of the contest and hoped for the worst as the senior guard toed the charity stripe.
They should’ve picked another player
Maddox, the Owls’ best free-throw
shooter during the regular season, stepped
up to the line and sank all four foul shots.
Those crucial free throws helped the eighthseeded Owls nail down a hard-fought win over ninth-seeded Nebraska, 64-61, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at
the RBC Center Sunday.
“Those were definitely the biggest of my
career,” Maddox said about the free throws. “I knew I had to hit those. It could have been my last game.”
But it wasn’t.
Temple will play No. 1-seeded Duke in
the second round of the NCAA Tournament
Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Maddox led the Owls (25-7) with 18
points and five assists. Junior Lady Comfort scored 15 points and senior Kamesha Hairston added 12.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” Hairston
said. “No one thought we would have
the success we are having, so it’s huge to
come out and get a win in the first round.”
The Owls have made five NCAA Tournament
appearances during coach Dawn Staley’s
seven-year tenure, but were eliminated
in the first round in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
By beating the Huskers (22-10), Staley
improved her NCAA Tournament record to
“We are trying to break down doors and open our program up to the national scene,” Staley said. “What we are doing is teaching our kids some great life skills through basketball. I thought they got repaid tonight for what they put in this particular season.”
The Owls trailed the Huskers, 38-31, with 17:38 left in the second half before outscoring Nebraska, 16-9, over the next nine minutes to tie the game at 47 at the 8:40 mark. The lead changed hands twice before Comfort hit a layup off of Hairston’s missed three-point attempt to put Temple up, 60-59, with 1:40 remaining.
The Owls outrebounded the Huskers, 42-32, and scored 17 second-chance points. All eight Owls who played in the game grabbed at least one board.
“Temple’s a really good rebounding team, and ultimately that’s where the game was decided,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “We had our chances, and we weren’t able to get it done down the stretch.”
The Huskers had an opportunity to tie the game down the stretch.
Maddox hit a pair of free throws to give Temple a 64-61 advantage with 20 seconds left. On the Huskers’ final possession, senior Kiera Hardy’s last-second three-point attempt sailed wide right of the rim.
“We knew they were going to set a ball screen,” Hairston said. “Our coach told us to trap it and don’t let them get a three-pointer off. We tried not to give them any open looks.”
“They were switching every screen, and it worked – when you’ve got a 6-foot player running at you,” Hardy said.
The Owls celebrated at mid-court once the final buzzer sounded.
“I was excited, the game was over,” Comfort said.Comfort said the Owls began to realize they could win the game after junior Ashley Morris hit a layup, got fouled, and made the ensuing free throw to cut the Huskers’ lead to 59-58 with 2:22 left.
“After that, the momentum picked up and we just knew we wouldn’t be denied,” Comfort said.Morris provided a spark for the Owls off the bench when Maddox struggled to bring the ball upcourt against the Huskers’ full-court press. The junior guard had seven points, five rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes.
“I’m not really out there looking to get mine,” Morris said of her line score. “I’m looking to set other people up, defend and just do my job and take care of the basketball.”
Taking care of the basketball was a key factor to the Owls’ success, Staley said.
“We played possession-by-possession,” Staley said. “We tried to make shots when we needed them and tried to get scores when we needed them.
“We were really resilient,” Staley continued.
“A lot of things didn’t go our way. Yes, they were frustrating, but we kept our composure.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.