Owls motivated after early exit in tournament

After losing in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference tournament, Temple University women’s basketball is eager to get back to the postseason next year.

Mia Davis (left), a graduate student forward, talks with Alexa Williamson, a junior forward, during halftime of an Owls’ game against Wichita State on Feb. 2. | NOEL CHACKO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Temple University women’s basketball (13-15, 8-8 The American Athletic Conference) entered the conference tournament as the fourth seed, they had their sights on a conference championship.

Instead, the Owls were eliminated in the second round of the tournament after a 63-55 loss to Southern Methodist University (14-14, 7-7 The AAC) on March 8, due to young players’ lack of experience in big games.

The Owls failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the fifth-straight season, but the team showed encouraging flashes throughout the season.

“You look at our starting lineup, and we have three freshmen getting a lot of game experience,” said head coach Tonya Cardoza. “We are hoping that this season will make them realize that they don’t want to be back in this position again and that they really devote their time to getting better.”

After winning seven of their first 12 conference games, the Owls lost four consecutive games late in the season, costing them their early momentum going into the conference tournament.

The early exit made the Owls’ young players eager to return to the conference tournament as a better team next year, said freshman forward Kyra Wood. 

“We got a little taste of the tournament,” Wood added. “I feel like getting that first taste just makes you want to go back for more, and everyone is encouraged and motivated to get back and get farther next year.”

Temple struggled to work in sync and communicate, going -2.5 in the turnover margin and only recording 213 steals compared to their opponents’ 246. 

The Owls also struggled to mount consistent 3-point shooting, converting on just 24 percent of 3-pointers, which was good for last in the conference.

Temple failed to string together a streak of consistent conference wins, and lost multiple games to teams below them in the standings, like the University of Houston (16-15, 7-9 The American) on Feb. 23, losing 80-60 and committing 24 turnovers. They also fell to the University of Memphis (16-12, 6-9 The American) 64-61 on Jan. 29 due to their inability to guard the 3-point shot late in the game.

“We are so young,” said freshman forward Caranda Perea. “We know that we have a lot more years playing together and a lot more years to grow, and it didn’t go the way that we wanted it to go. But we have so much time to make it right and we have the right people.” 

The Owls will go into next season without graduate student forward Mia Davis, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Temple relied on running screens to get Davis the ball down low, and her presence in the paint allowed other players to get open opportunities from the wing.

Without Davis, Temple will need to find someone else who can get physical under the basket, like freshman guards Aniya Gourdine and Tiarra East, to create space for open mid-range jump shots.

Gourdine, who won back-to-back AAC freshman player of the week awards on Feb. 7 and Feb. 14, averaged 7.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. She also recorded the team’s first two triple-doubles in program history on Feb. 6 and Feb. 12.

Gourdine is a smart ball handler who could find open teammates on the floor and set them up with good opportunities at the basket. She can also drive to the rim and convert on contested layups.

Five of the Owls’ eight players in their regular rotation were freshmen. Young players are eager to step up next season and will benefit from getting valuable minutes during big games in a tough conference, Perea said.

“With [Davis] leaving, everyone wants to contribute more,” Perea added. “Everyone will have to be a bigger part of the offense. And I’m not sure who all is coming in next year through transfers and recruiting, but we are always surrounded by good players that want to help us reach our goals.”

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