This past week, the women’s basketball team lost more games than they won, but coach Dawn Staley couldn’t have been more pleased.
The Owls sandwiched Friday’s 64-42 win at East Tennessee State with encouraging losses to two of the nation’s top teams. Temple dropped a 65-51 decision to then-No. 3 LSU at home last Tuesday, and failed to capitalize on several early runs in a back-and-forth 52-48 loss at No. 1 Tennessee on Sunday.
While enduring two losses in a week can be discouraging, the Owls showed promise in each of their defeats. With just under eight minutes remaining in the LSU game, the Owls (2-2) nearly erased an 11-point Tigers lead. Playing against one of the nation’s top backcourt combinations, including preseason player of the year nominee Seimone Augustus, the Owls played the Tigers closer than the final score implied.
Against Tennessee, Temple looked sharp from start to finish in a game that featured 11 lead changes. Staley said it was the caliber of loss that she can be pleased with.
“We’ve won two Atlantic Ten Championships with this kind of schedule, so hopefully we’re not going to stop after games like these,” Staley said. “One of these days we’re going to get one of these giants. We’ll get one of them. I know we will. We’re too close and we can almost taste it. We have got to just keep plugging.”
The Owls started strong against the Volunteers, running out to a nine-point lead in the game’s early minutes. Coming off a loss to No. 4 Texas on Thanksgiving, the Lady Vols (4-1) failed to score in the first five minutes. They finally registered their first points on forward Brittany Jackson’s three-pointer with 15:06 remaining in the first half.
“[The Owls] knocked down all of their open shots and we didn’t,” Jackson said of her team’s slow start.
On jump shots from the perimeter, Tennessee cut Temple’s lead in half to 20-10 with 4:30 in the first half. Another late surge provided Tennessee with a slim 23-22 advantage at the end of the first half.
“This Temple team did exactly what they wanted. They wanted to play slow and they played slow,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “We wanted to play a lot faster and that encouraged us to play too fast early in the game. Once we settled down, we got a lot of open looks on the offensive end and took a lead.”
The game became a seesaw contest in the second half. Ari Moore’s jump shot at 16:33 gave the Owls a brief 28-27 lead. On Tennessee’s ensuing possession, Shyra Ely hit a jumper to reclaim the lead for the Lady Vols. During a three-minute stretch to start the second half, the Owls and Lady Vols exchanged the lead every trip up the court.
Over the final six minutes, the Lady Vols went on a 12-7 run to seal the win. Senior point guard Cynthia Jordan and Moore were the only Owls in double figures, scoring 14 and 13 points respectively. Jordan added nine rebounds.
Staley said the Owls performance against the nation’s top programs should create interest among Temple fans.
“Our kids … almost came up with one of the biggest upsets in women’s college basketball,” Staley said. “We had ample opportunity to win the game. I’m proud of our girls. It’s not every day that you can come into a historical place like Knoxville and play a great game.”
Moore said the Owls had to put aside history in their matchups with two of the proudest teams in women’s hoops.
“The thing about Tennessee is that, if you’re a women’s basketball player, you always dream about playing Tennessee in Tennessee,” she added.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tennessee quotes compiled from CSTV Radio broadcast, a division of Collegesports.com