STORRS, CONN.–The women’s basketball team executed its game plan to the tee, as its four frontcourt players – seniors Shanea Cotton and Shenita Landry, junior Jasmine Stone and freshman Kristen McCarthy – scored 47 points combined.
But the Owls’ guards only added 10 more, and the No. 8-seeded Florida Gators (24-7) defeated the No. 9-seeded Owls, 70-57.
“Florida was putting a lot of pressure on the guards and trapping,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “As soon as we made that entry pass, they would go in and trap the ball. I just thought that we played a little scared. We definitely played a little scared. I think we hurt ourselves.”
Temple (21-10) controlled the game at the outset, as Stone, a late substitution in the starting lineup for Cotton, tipped the ball to junior guard LaKeisha Eaddy, who went in for a layup. That layup would be Eaddy’s only points of the game.
McCarthy quickly stole Florida’s inbounds pass for a 4-0 Temple lead.
But the Gators rebounded quickly thanks to senior forward Marshae Dotson, who scored nine of Florida’s first 20 points. She finished with 13 points in the game, right on her season average.
The Owls could not contain the Gators’ second-leading scorer, even though Landry, Stone and Cotton all held distinct height advantages over the 5-foot-11-inch senior. When the Owls doubled down on Dotson, that left open other Gators, including senior guard Sha Brooks.
Brooks, Florida’s leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, didn’t make her first bucket until 8:20 remained in the first half, but she quickly caught fire, contributing 10 points the remainder of the half and a game-high 18 overall.
The Gators shot 60.7 percent as a team in the first half, while the Owls shot just 36.4 percent in the first half and 39 percent for the game overall.
“We, again, had mental lapses,” Cardoza said. “We didn’t rotate over and help out, and we’re playing the zone, and we know that we need to cover the 3-point shooters, and we help in the lane instead of spreading out and covering the shooters.”
A number of Temple’s misses came on easy fastbreak opportunities.
Sophomore guard Shaqwedia Wallace and Landry both missed layups at the 14:11 mark in the first half, and Eaddy missed one herself after a steal four minutes later.
“When we got on runs, we just had mental lapses and let them get back in the game,” Landry said.
Cardoza attributed those lapses to nerves.
“I told them before the game, ‘I understand the situation that you guys are put in right now. We worked really hard to be in this position. Don’t let being nervous affect how you play. If you play nervous, you’re going to turn the ball over, miss shots, and you’re not going to be able to get yourselves out of it,’” she said. “That’s easy for me to say, but sometimes that’s hard for a young kid to do.”
Following those misses, the Gators reeled off an 11-0 run, extending their lead to as large as 12 before the Owls closed the gap to eight, 33-41, at the half.
A 6-0 run to start the second half got the Owls within four at 39-43, but that was the closest it would be the rest of the game.
With 8:30 left, Wallace and Cotton added back-to-back layups to draw within five, but Florida’s 3-point shooters quieted the crowd with back-to-back 3’s. The Owls didn’t hit a 3-pointer the entire game, going 0-for-12 from beyond the arc.
The fans who stayed following No.1-seeded Connecticut’s 104-65 drubbing of No.16-seeded Vermont clearly supported Cardoza in her first NCAA Tournament game as a head coach, giving her a standing ovation when she was introduced at the start of the game and groaning every time a call went in Florida’s favor.
But that support could not help the Owls stave off defeat in the first round for the second year in a row.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.