Temple’s win against Southern Methodist on Wednesday was more than just another tally in the win column.
Not only was it the Owls’ 20th win, but it was also Temple’s first game as a ranked team since the 2005-06 season.
Temple (21-5, 11-2 American Athletic Conference) was ranked at No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll on Feb. 14. And on Monday, the Owls broke into the Associated Press Top 25 poll at the No. 23 spot.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for the whole time,” senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald said after learning of the USA Today results. “To know that our hard work is finally paying off and being noticed, it feels great to know that. But like coach said, just because we’re ranked doesn’t mean we’re going to lax off or just do whatever now. We’re going to keep doing what we have to do and keep getting better each and every day as a team.”
The Owls have also jumped in The American’s standings. Temple is in second place, only behind No. 1 Connecticut. Temple passed South Florida, which recently lost to conference opponent Central Florida, after Wednesday’s win.
Temple held onto second place with a 77-71 win against the Bulls on Sunday. It was the Owls’ second win against a ranked team this season.
Since the beginning of the season, Temple’s main goal has been to make it to the NCAA tournament. The team’s national rank, conference record and its 12-game win streak from Dec. 10 to Jan. 25 add to its resume. Temple hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since the 2010-11 season, when the Owls went 24-9 and advanced to the second round.
“I think we really have the pieces to the puzzle to get that done this year,” Fitzgerald said. “I think we just have to buckle down and do what we have to do and we should make it.”
The Owls hope to be one of the 64 teams selected for the tournament in March. The first 32 teams earn automatic bids by winning their conference tournaments. The other 32 teams are considered “at-large” bids selected by a committee. ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme projects Temple as a No. 8 seed in the tournament. The bracket will be announced on March 13, and the first round begins on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Owls have three regular-season games and the conference tournament, which begins on March 3, as the only remaining obstacles to reaching the NCAA tournament. Coach Tonya Cardoza has confidence her squad will finish strong.
“We still have a few more games left,” Cardoza said. “Take it one game at a time and we’ve just got to win the games we’re supposed to win and not have any slip-ups along the way.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.