They played with passion. They played with brains. They made all the plays they had to make, and then some.
For once the Owls played like the Owls could, like the Owls of old. And just in time, too.
“After the game my players asked if we were surprised or shocked and I said, ‘Yes,'” coach Tonya Cardoza said after Temple won its first-round match over Xavier, 52-45. “They picked the right time to do it.”
“My hat goes off to them,” Cardoza added, with possibly her biggest smile of the season. “They did all the little things that we’ve been asking them to do all season and I’m glad that it paid off for them today.”
To be honest, all season Temple did not play like a team that would get out of the first round of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. Instead they played their best ball of the season, bar none.
Senior center Victoria Macaulay, playing her first tournament game since she missed the potential go-ahead layup in the Owls’ semi-final loss to Dayton last season, was solid. With 12 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks she did exactly what she needed to do.
Sophomore guard Tyonna Williams had nine points and four assists. She looked like Tom Brady on the court, directing her team almost effortlessly all game long.
Sophomore guard Rateska Brown shot the ball, and shot some more, on her way to a game-high 14 points, including four three-pointers. She didn’t have to do anything else.
And freshman forward Sally Kabengano locked down the biggest thorn in the Owls’ side last time they faced Xavier, junior guard Shatyra Hawkes.
“I think Sally did a tremendous job defensive-wise,” Williams said. “We know that Sally’s our stopper. I think today everybody played their roles the correct way.”
Cardoza could do nothing but breathe a sigh of relief when asked if this was the game she wanted all season from her squad.
“Yes, and they know it, too,” Cardoza said. “Again, I’m not asking them to be great, just asking them to do the little things.”
“But yeah, it pisses me off that they wait till now to do it, but I guess no better time than now,” she added.
Talk about sand-bagging. This team couldn’t put a full game together all season. And then, despite falling behind 12-3 in the opening minutes, they made basketball look like a walk in the park.
At one point the Owls defensive stops were as follows: forced turnover in the paint, forced turnover in the paint, missed jumper and three-pointer, blocked shot, three-second violation, turnover, turnover.
At the beginning of that run the score was 12-5, Xavier, with under 15 minutes left in the first half. When junior guard Ashley Wanninger finally made their first bucket after that run—five minutes later—the Owls were ahead 17-14.
“We talked about it before we played, just leaving everything out there on the floor,” Macaulay said.
In the second half, just to show how well they were clicking on all cylinders, Williams and Brown took turns on a steal attempt. Brown drove to the other end for what looked like a contested layup with Williams trailing for the rebound. Brown turned left, away from the basket, but made a perfect no-look pass to her right and Williams banked it off the backboard effortlessly.
“We just played as a team, we played as a family,” Brown said. “I knew [the defender] was going to commit to me so I was just like, ‘Let me just give Tyonna an easy bucket.'”
And it was smooth sailing from them on.
Now the Owls have to prove themselves all over again tomorrow against Charlotte. There’s no going back after a performance like this.
“I love the effort, but it has to be that times 10,” Cardoza said.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jakeadams520.