When Temple University women’s basketball (13-14, 8-8 The American Athletic Conference) defeated the University of Tulsa (15-9, 5-8 The American) 73-58 on Feb. 12, they thought they would be in contention for the second seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
Instead, the Owls did not secure a first round bye until they snapped a four-game losing streak after defeating Southern Methodist University (13-13, 7-7 The American) 56-48 in their final regular season game on March 2, clinching the four seed.
During the losing streak, the Owls never lost confidence in their young players and will continue relying on them throughout the postseason.
The Owls will play the Mustangs for a third consecutive game on March 8 in the second round of the conference tournament. It’s the first time head coach Tonya Cardoza has played against the same team three times in a row.
In the loss on Feb. 28, the Owls turned the ball over 25 times and two starters fouled out of the game. In the victory on March 2, Temple committed only 13 turnovers and had no players in foul trouble.
“It is definitely a little easier to gameplan,” Cardoza said. “The players understand what will be going on at all times since we have played them two times already and we know the personnel and the adjustments we have to make so it will be all about executing.”
Despite the string of tough losses, Temple remained confident in its ability to win games, and the team did not let the losing streak affect their postseason goals, said freshman forward Caranda Perea.
“During a long season sometimes you just lose sight of the thing that you need to do well,” Perea added. “I have always believed that we are going to be conference champions since I came in the summer so a four-game losing streak wasn’t going to change that.”
The Owls’ regular starting lineup consists of three freshmen: forward Kyra Wood and guards Aniya Gourdine and Tiarra East.
Gourdine earned back-to-back AAC freshman player of the week awards on Nov. 29 and Feb 14. She’s averaging 7.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game this season. She also recorded the team’s first two triple-doubles in program history on Feb. 6 and Feb. 12.
Despite their youth, the Owls are confident in their underclassmen playing in the postseason, said graduate student forward Mia Davis.
“There have been so many big moments throughout the season where our younger players have had to step up and have, so I definitely have confidence in everyone,” Davis added.
Davis, a focal point of Temple’s offense, is averaging 19.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game this season. She is also one of the favorites to win the AAC player of the year award.
Despite getting double-teamed in recent games, Davis is still finding ways to be productive in all areas of the game.
“A lot more teams are starting to pack the paint and double me,” Davis said. “If I’m getting doubled, then that usually means someone else will be open, so I always try and find the open teammate.”
A win against the Mustangs would put the Owls in the conference semifinals for the first time since the 2016-17 season, and the team is eager to experience that atmosphere, Perea said.
“Everyone is hungry to win,” Perea added. “When you are growing up playing basketball you always imagine winning championships. It’s like making a little kid’s dream come true and I think everyone feels that excitement.”