With the women’s basketball team’s final season in the Atlantic 10 Conference in the books, Tonya Cardoza has failed to achieve what she set out to do upon taking the Temple head coaching gig five years ago: win a conference championship.
The Owls finished 14-18 overall and 5-9 in conference play in Temple’s last season before transitioning to the Big East Conference come next fall. A season marred by inconsistencies, careless turnovers and late-game collapses, it proved to be the program’s worst since 1999-00.
“Obviously, we play this game to win and to win championships,” Cardoza said as her voice cracked. “And the fact that this is our last [A-10 season], it’s very disappointing.”
However, Temple didn’t go down without a valiant effort. Entering last weekend’s A-10 tournament as the No. 10 seed, the Owls gutted their way through a first round 52-45 win against No. 7 seed Xavier, followed by an upset over No. 2 seed Charlotte that not many saw coming. The Owls shot 25 percent in their 48-47 win against the 49ers, but impressed on the defensive end. Perhaps more importantly, Cardoza’s squad did the “little things” that she had pleaded for all season.
While third-seeded Fordham ultimately ended Temple’s run with a 66-55 win in the semifinals, it was not for lack of effort by the Owls. Again, they did as Cardoza asked, but were spurned by the Rams once they began exploiting the Owls’ weak-side help, as Fordham kept finding the open man en route to a relentless 7-for-13 shooting from the three-point range in the second half.
“I don’t question our effort at all,” Cardoza said. “The weak-side help was there, and [Fordham] knew that.”
The conclusion of the 2012-13 campaign also signals the end of senior center Victoria Macaulay’s collegiate career. Serving as the team’s only senior, she averaged 14.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game in her final season. Ever a defensive presence and a force on the glass, Macaulay finishes her career ranked fourth all-time in Temple history with 203 blocks, and 10th all-time in rebounding with 706 boards.
As she was pulled in the waning seconds of the season-ending loss to Fordham, Macaulay, overwhelmed with emotion, shared a brief moment with Cardoza before taking a seat on the Temple bench one last time.
“We enjoy being around each other. I just didn’t want that to end,” Macaulay said. “Learning what a family really means and learning how to be a leader and great teammate, I learned a lot from this program and I’ll continue to let it advance my game in the future.”
But, as they say, as one door closes, another opens.
With the Big East on the horizon, the Owls will unleash a plethora of young players that had plenty of opportunities to grow this season, as well as one key component that was absent all year.
Sophomore point guard Monaye Merritt, who played 23 games as a freshman and showed potential, will get a chance to play next season after sitting out the entire 2012-13 campaign with a torn ACL. Merritt’s welcomed return most likely means sophomore guard Tyonna Williams will slide back into her natural position as the starting shooting guard. Williams averaged 9.4 points and five assists per game while adapting to an unexpected role.
Freshman forward Sally Kabengano appears to be mainstay in Temple’s starting lineup for the next three seasons. While her length and athleticism make her arguably Cardoza’s best defender, her offensive game did nothing but improve as the season went on.
Sharp-shooting sophomore guard Rateska Brown, who finished second on the team in scoring at 10.8 points per game as Temple’s sixth-man, is also figured to return next season with another year under her belt.
Anchoring it all will be redshirt-junior forward Natasha Thames, who, like Macaulay this season, will be Temple’s lone senior. She averaged seven points and eight boards this season, and had a team-leading 44 steals.
Cardoza finishes her five-year A-10 stint with a 107-56 record, including three NCAA tournament berths and one WNIT appearance.
On March 16, she tweeted, “Great 3 mile run this morning with the team… #NewBeginnings.”
“The way we ended [this season], that’s the way we need to start [next season],” Cardoza said.
While Cardoza has nothing to show for her time spent in the A-10, that door has officially been closed. Time to open another.
Tyler Sablich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TySablich.