Owls hit their stride as conference play nears

Temple University women’s basketball is coming off of two big wins against Villanova University and Georgetown University as conference play approaches.

Kyra Wood, a freshman forward, fights two defenders to get the basketball during an Owls' game against Bucknell University at McGonigle Hall on Nov. 20. | NICK DAVIS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Following a 59-41 loss against Princeton University on Nov. 23 at McGonigle Hall, Temple University women’s basketball (5-3, 0-0 The American Athletic Conference) knew they were not anywhere near the level of play they wanted to be.

During the game, the Owls scored their lowest points total of the season. They also shot just 24.2 percent from the field, their lowest percentage of the season.

After losing three of their first five games of the season, the Owls bounced back with three consecutive victories against Villanova University on Nov. 27, (3-5, 0-2 Big East Conference)  Georgetown University on Nov. 30 (4-4, 1-1 Big East Conference) and Duquesne University (4-5, 0-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) on Dec. 5.

The Owls recent success is a result of moving the ball around more and utilizing different players on the team, said head coach Tonya Cardoza.

“In the past, we have had to rely on only our starters,” Cardoza added. “Recently we have had contributions from everyone and guys have been able to step up and give us positive minutes, and if someone gets in foul trouble we have the depth where guys can step up and play.”

Heading into the season, one of the main focal points was to limit turnovers on the offensive side of the ball while finding ways to create them on defense, Cardoza said.

During the 2020-21 season, the Owls lost the turnover battle 381-358, and struggled to capitalize on opportunities and only averaged 14.4 points off turnovers per game while their opponents averaged 18.7.

The Owls are now winning the turnover battle against their opponents 128-141, and this season they have capitalized on their opponent’s mistakes by averaging 17.6 caused turnovers a game.

Freshman guard Aniya Gourdine dominates in forced turnovers, with a team-leading 14 steals through eight games played this season.

Temple has created more turnovers and momentum-shifting moments because they have amped up their aggressiveness on defense, said assistant coach Willnett Crockett.

“We have a lot of speed and size this season,” Crockett added. “We understand that we can gamble a little bit more because we have guys that are going to help in the way that we play our defense.”

Cardoza’s ability to keep the entire team together and on the same page has helped everyone recognize their role on offense, said junior forward Alexa Williamson. 

“[Cardoza] holds us to a high standard and expects a lot from us,” Williamson added. “She has been hard on us this season but everyone knows it is coming from a place of love and everyone buys into what she says.”

Graduate student forward Mia Davis has been the anchor for the Owls on the offensive side of the ball so far this season.

Davis was named the preseason American Athletic Conference player of the year this season and was one of 20 players named to the 2022 Cheryl Miller Watch List, an award given to the best small forward in the nation.

Not only is Davis leading the team in points per game, minutes played and rebounds, but she has also taken attention away from other players, giving them the opportunity to score with clean looks at the basket.

“[Davis] is our leader and she is the person that anyone on the team can go to,” Cardoza said. “Everyone on the team looks up to her and she is open and willing to help anyone and as for on the basketball court, she is still getting double and triple-teamed and finds ways to produce.”

Temple has four more games until they travel to Orlando, Florida, on Jan. 2 to face the University of Central Florida and begin their AAC schedule. In the meantime, the Owls will continue to stay together and build as a team, Cardoza said.

“This past week we really rallied behind one another,” Cardoza said. “When things were not going well we didn’t get down on ourselves and we found a way to pull a couple games out.”

The Owls will look to keep the momentum going when they return home to face Big Five rival Saint Joseph’s University (2-6, 0-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) on Dec. 11 at noon at McGonigle Hall.

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