Owls prep for American Athletic Conference tournament

Temple locked up the No. 2 seed for the event in Connecticut.

Junior guard Tanaya Atkinson shoots a free throw during Saturday’s win against Cincinnati. KAIT MOORE FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

After the officials missed a seemingly obvious travel call against Connecticut that led to a Huskies’ 3-pointer in Wednesday’s game, coach Tonya Cardoza paced the sideline looking at the ground.

She knew her team was in for a long night against the top-ranked team in the country.

For the first six minutes of the game, Temple did not trail by more than seven points. But after junior guard Tanaya Atkinson converted a layup and a free throw, Connecticut outscored the Owls 78-37 in the final 35 minutes to win 90-45.

The Huskies dominated all facets of the game against Temple, out-rebounding the Owls by 14 and forcing 26 turnovers — almost double the Owls’ season average.

Temple (23-6, 13-3 American Athletic Conference) won five games in a row before the matchup with the Huskies on Wednesday night. The last time the Owls lost was in the first matchup against Connecticut on Feb. 1.

Junior guard Tanaya Atkinson shoots a free throw during Saturday’s win against Cincinnati. KAIT MOORE FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Owls bounced back on Saturday against Cincinnati, beating the Bearcats 88-64. Atkinson recorded a career-high 30 points, rebounding from her game against Connecticut, where Cardoza said she “stunk up the joint.”

“It was really important for us to bounce back in this game,” Cardoza said. “After we had the loss up in Connecticut it was big for us to win and pretty much secure the second seed in the conference tournament.”

The Owls continued to recover from the loss to UConn with a 66-60 win against Central Florida in their last regular season game on Monday.

Temple played its last home game of the season on Saturday. Seniors Feyonda Fitzgerald, Ruth Sherrill, Safiya Martin and Monasia Bolduc were honored before the game. During the game, Fitzgerald became the first in Temple history to tally 600 career assists. Fitzgerald made four of her six 3-point attempts in the second half and scored 16 of her 18 points.

“I started seeing the floor a lot better in the second half,” Fitzgerald said of the Cincinnati game. “I was able to have a better feeling of what was going on and my shot started to fall.”

“It was bittersweet,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean it was an honor and as a team we’ve accomplished so much here, I just don’t want it to end.”

The conference tournament begins on Friday with games involving the six through 11 seeds. As the No. 2 seed, the Owls have a bye and will play their first game on Saturday against the winner of the game between No. 7 Cincinnati and No. 10 Houston.

The second seed means Temple wouldn’t have to face Connecticut until potentially meeting in the tournament championship. Because the tournament is at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, about 30 miles from Connecticut’s campus, the Huskies will have home-court advantage in any game they play.

Last season, Temple advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament before losing to South Florida. If the Owls and Bulls win their first two tournament games this year, they’ll meet in the semifinals once again.

Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at kevinschaeffer@temple.edu or on Twitter @_kevinschaeffer.

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