Make no question about it. The women’s basketball team can compete with the best schools in the nation. They have proven this in upsetting two nationally-ranked opponents this season and battling through some in-game adversity to pull off the wins.
But the Owls often play lackadaisical against meager opponents. They make poor passes. They commit turnovers. They allow opposing teams to stay in the game.
Such play was the case (again) this past weekend. The Owls flirted with St. Louis last Friday, allowing one of the worst teams in the Atlantic Ten Conference to stay with them for the game’s first 30 minutes, before the Owls pulled away for the win.
Then, the Owls got bit by Richmond last Sunday in a game decided by two points. That could prove to be a costly A-10 defeat. The loss dropped them into third place in the conference.
If the Owls weren’t previously concerned with their A-10 competition, they should be now. Suddenly, the Owls are fighting for something previously deemed a gimme: A first-round bye in the A-10 tournament.
Behind the Owls sit four teams with realistic shots at earning byes. Two of them – Saint Joseph’s and Dayton – will get the chance to knock off the Owls before the end of the regular season. So will the current second-place team, George Washington.
For the Owls, postseason play begins on Friday with a match-up with St. Joe’s at the Liacouras Center. There’s no time for mistakes now. This team needs to get its act in gear.
The Owls’ next three games are against the Hawks, the Flyers and the Colonials. And, as the two-time defending A-10 champs, the Owls have a pretty large target resting on their backs.
Two of those aforementioned teams – St. Joe’s and GW – have already given the Owls wake-up calls this season with wins on their respective home floors. The Colonials broke the Owls’ 24-game A-10 win streak on Jan. 11. The Owls responded by winning their next five games, including tough road wins at top 10-ranked Rutgers and Xavier.
But then St. Joe’s brought the Owls back to earth by beating them by two points.
While the Hawks and Colonials have proven they can compete with the Owls, the key game in the Owls’ stretch is in Dayton. The Owls play the Hawks and Colonials in the Liacouras Center, where they have not lost to an A-10 team in 24 straight games. Plus, the Owls will have extra motivation as they attempt to avenge their previous losses.
But the Dayton game comes on the road, where the Owls have stuggled against A-10 teams. They are just 3-3 in such games.
But the Owls also need to look at the bigger picture. This season may present the best opportunity they have to travel deep into the postseason. At the end of this season, the Owls will lose three starters (Candice Dupree, Jennifer Owens and Khadija Bowens) to graduation.
The team has some viable replacements for that trio on their current roster, but none quite fill their productive shoes.
So, now is the time for the Owls to make their move. If they miss it, they might not have another opportunity for a while.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.