As losers of five straight, the Owls have managed to backpedal their way to a spot in this weekend’s Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
In the midst of its worst season since 2002-03, Temple (12-17, 5-9 A-10) has locked up the No. 10 seed and will take on No. 7 Xavier (13-15, 7-7 A-10) on Friday, March 8, at St. Joseph’s University in the Hagan Arena.
“[I expect them] to play with the passion and the desire to win,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We might have glimpses of that, but not for 40 minutes. So I think going into the [Xavier] game, if we’re committed and we stay together and defensively we’re communicating, that’s all you can ask for. If shots go in then that’s fine, but it’s the little things.”
Temple and Xavier will go into the first round with a strong familiarity of each other, having played just two weeks ago at McGonigle Hall. The Owls lost a heartbreaker when Xavier redshirt-senior forward Jessica Pachko sunk the game-winning layup with six seconds remaining, and sophomore point guard Tyonna Williams failed to hit the buzzer-beater.
Pachko, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in the win against Temple, is second on the team in scoring and first in rebounding, averaging 10 points and seven boards per game. Redshirt-senior forward, Amber Gray leads the Musketeers in scoring at 11 points per game.
While the Owls’ inconsistency this season has been highly documented, it’s their tendency to play down to their opponents’ level that has baffled Cardoza the most. Xavier had lost eight of its previous 12 games before knocking off Temple.
“That’s been the most frustrating thing,” Cardoza said. “You beat Syracuse who’s a Top 25 team. You play at St. Joe’s when they’ve had a great year, and you take them into overtime. And then you go to Kent State who’s won three games and you don’t pull that out. And then there’s games down the stretch where all you have to do is make one play, and because of whatever, we don’t make that one play.”
Senior center Victoria Macaulay, who played her final home game in the loss against Fordham on Sunday, March 3, is not used to entering the first round of the conference tournament as the proverbial underdog. The Owls were a combined 72-28 in her first three years at Temple, but the team’s transition season has taken a toll on its senior leader.
“It’s rough,” Macaulay said. “You don’t ever want to be in this position and for a long time. [Cardoza] has basically been begging us to just do all of the little things, and we still have not done it. That’s why our record is the way it is, because we’re not disciplined.”
The disheartening season hasn’t been easy on one particular rookie, either. Freshman forward Sally Kabengano, who has started 25 games and is fifth on the team in scoring at six points per game, said she hopes the team can learn from and build off its struggles.
“It’s been really tough,” Kabengano said. “You don’t want to see something like this, of course. You want to win, you want to do well. But we have to see it as a lesson. You don’t want to feel the way we feel and you don’t want to look the way we look.”
Unless Temple can rip off a string of upsets and win the A-10 tournament, its season will come to an end following this weekend’s activities. Below .500 teams do not qualify for the WNIT, and knocking off the likes of conference rivals Dayton (26-1, 14-0), Charlotte (24-4, 13-1), Fordham (22-7, 12-2), St. Joe’s (20-8, 11-3) and Duquesne (22-6, 11-3) seems like an insurmountable task for Cardoza’s Owls.
However, Xavier is seemingly beatable, and sleeper teams making deep runs in postseason tournaments is nothing new.
If the Owls can get their heads on straight and do the little things that Cardoza asks, Macaulay said Temple is not to be ruled out just yet.
“Some people may be hot, some people may be cold,” Macaulay said. “It all depends on the players. If we really want it, we can get it.”
Tyler Sablich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TySablich.