Women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley watched on Saturday as the three other teams with first-round byes in Atlantic Ten Conference tournament struggled in the quarterfinal round. Two of those teams – fourth-seeded Xavier and second-seeded Charlotte – lost in upsets.
So prior the Temple’s meeting with six-seeded Dayton, Staley said she told her team to break the trend.
Through the first 12 minutes, it didn’t appear as if the Owls would snap the trend, as they struggled. But the Owls settled down and ran away with a 70-55 victory over the Flyers at Saint Joseph’s Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
It wasn’t just one Owl who struggled.
Sophomore center Lady Comfort found herself on the bench, having committed two fouls in the game’s first minute. Senior forward Candice Dupree couldn’t find her shot. And the Owls were having problems controlling the ball.
“They were fired up. They were jittery,” Staley said. “The mistakes that we were making are just from that. I knew when the game calmed down we could see a lot clearer where the openings were.”
Although Dupree missed all seven of her first-half field goal attempts, she contributed in other ways. She went 9-of-12 from the free-throw line and brought down nine rebounds.
“I kind of had this feeling before the game that it was going to be one of those nights,” Dupree said of her shooting woes. “I just had to figure in defensively and try and create some open shots for my teammates.”
As Dupree was missing shots, the Owls couldn’t control the ball. Six of their seven first half turnovers came within the game’s first 12 minutes, including four turnovers by senior guard Khadija Bowens.
With the score knotted at 18 with five minutes to play in the half, the Owls settled down. They held the Flyers to just one field goal the rest of the half, as they went off on a 14-5 run to open up a 33-24 halftime lead. Guards Ashley Morris and Fatima Maddox hit field goals during the run, while junior forward Kamesha Hairston and Dupree chipped in with points from the free-throw line.
Senior point guard Jennifer Owens said it was only a matter of time for her all-America teammate Dupree to settle down.
“We know when Can maybe isn’t knocking down shots or whatever, eventually they’re going to fall for her,” said senior point guard Jennifer Owens, who finished with four assists. “But while they’re not falling, the rest of us have to pick it up, [and] knock down some shots.”
Leading 38-29 five minutes into the second half, the Owls put the game to bed with a 10-1 run that gave them an 18-point lead. Dupree made three field goals, including her first of the game, during the run. The Flyers would never close within 15 points of the Owls.
The Owls will face 10th -seeded Duquesne in the semifinal round Sunday. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
The Dukes knocked off second-seeded Charlotte, 56-45, in a quarterfinal duel that featured 11 lead changes. They held the 49ers, the top-ranked scoring unit in the conference, to a 28.8 shooting percentage. Forward Nicole Sinclair led the way for the Dukes, sinking 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
The Dukes have now won four straight games, their longest win streak since the 2003-04 season and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1992. A victory over the Owls would make Duquesne the lowest seed to ever reach the finals. The 1991 Saint Joseph’s team advanced to the finals as the sixth seed, the lowest seed ever to make the finals.
For the second consecutive season, Dupree was named both the conference’s Most Valuable Player and the Defensive Player of the Year. Dupree finished second in the A-10 in both scoring and rebounding. She averaged 17.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game during the regular season. Her 66 blocks led the conference.
Dupree and Hairston were named to the All-Defensive and All-Conference First Teams. Hairston averaged 2.29 steals per game, the third-best mark in the A-10.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com