Owls to bring back four starters next season

The women’s basketball team will lose two seniors, but will bring in two high-level recruits to supplement the departures.

Senior guard Erica Covile shoots during the Owls’ 75-61 win against Ohio University. The game would be her second-to-last with the team, as the Owls fell to Michigan 77-76. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN TTN

Temple’s season ended with a 77-76 loss to the University of Michigan at Crisler Center last night, ending the Owls’ Women’s National Invitation Tournament run at the quarterfinals.

While Temple missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season, four starters—sophomore guard Alliya Butts, sophomore guard Donnaizha Fountain, sophomore guard Tanaya Atkinson and junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald—will all return as a veteran core for the 2016-17 season.

“Last year, it gave us a lot of experience playing in the postseason,” coach Tonya Cardoza said of last season’s WNIT Final-Four run. “They’re still learning and being in close game situations. It’s only going to help them and benefit us in the long run.”

Senior guard Erica Covile, who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in a 78-64 home win against Central Florida on senior night, will be the team’s only departing starter. Ugo Nwaigwe, a transfer from Wagner College this season, will join her as the other departure.

Those losses opened spots for two recruits taller than 6-foot-3 inches—Shannen Atkinson and Shantay Taylor. But since losing to Florida State University on Dec. 6, 2015, Cardoza has started five guards, electing to play without a starting forward.

Despite only scoring two points in the WNIT and averaging 3.3 PPG this season, Cardoza thinks sophomore guard Khadijah Berger may be the fifth starting option for the Owls in the upcoming season.

“She is someone I think deserves more playing time,” Cardoza said. “She sees the bigger picture and she is someone I said from day one that probably has the highest basketball IQ on our team.”

Butts and Fitzgerald have led the five-guard attack. Both were both honored by the American Athletic Conference for their efforts. Butts was a first team all-conference selection, while Fitzgerald received second team all-conference honors.

Three of the four returning starters have had multiple double-doubles this season. Fountain has had four, Atkinson has three and Fitzgerald has two.

The four returning starters have also averaged more than 10 points per game this season, with Butts leading the pack at 15.1 points per game.

“We have so much chemistry off the court. …Our skilled point guards, Feyonda and Alliya have helped us all learn,” Fountain said.

In the Owls’ WNIT third round victory against Ohio University, Butts, Fitzgerald, Fountain and Atkinson all scored in double-digits. In the first three WNIT rounds, Fitzgerald led the Owls in scoring with 21 points per game.

Fitzgerald was held to eight points in the Owls’ loss last night, while Butts tallied 11. The pair combined to go 8-of-23 from the field. Fountain had 25 points and seven rebounds in the losing effort.

“When Alliya or [Feyonda] are scoring for us, it pumps us up and helps us create steals,” Atkinson said. “But whoever has the hot hand, we’re usually going to give it to them.”

Mark McCormick can be reached at mark.mccormick@temple.edu or on Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.

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