The rebuilding project is not over.
After four straight seasons ending in winning records and postseason berths, a 14-16 overall record in the 2013-14 season has given the Tonya Cardoza-led Owls two consecutive losing seasons marred in inconsistency.
In its first season in the new American Athletic Conference, Temple recorded an 8-10 conference record, and its season came to a screeching stop with a 72-44 blowout loss against South Florida in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament.
“This is not the way you want to end your season, but all credit definitely goes to USF,” Cardoza said after the tournament defeat.
The Owls were voted to finish in ninth place in The American preseason poll and finished as the sixth-best team in the conference. But the team’s road to a sixth-place finish was filled with blown opportunities and domination by the top-heavy conference.
Against the Top 4 teams in the conference – Connecticut, Louisville, USF and Rutgers – the Owls came up winless in all nine games, including the season-ending rout. Despite the lopsided record against the conference’s best teams, Cardoza said she believes the record does not tell the entire story of the Owls’ season.
“I felt like we definitely competed,” Cardoza said. “We obviously didn’t know what to expect coming in, leaving the other conference. We’ve played against Rutgers every year and obviously UConn, but all the other teams coming into the conference – we really didn’t know what to expect. All season, no matter who we were playing against, I felt like we always gave ourselves a chance.”
Against non-conference opponents Michigan State and Syracuse – two teams that have been ranked through the year or have received votes – the Owls came within two possessions of upset victories in both games. When facing Philadelphia Big 5 teams, Temple earned a 1-3 record, but in two losses to Villanova and Penn, the final scores were determined as seconds expired in regulation.
Overall, the season served as another year of maturation for Temple, showing the flashes from its promising underclassmen group that will be forced to replace the production of a senior class that provided valuable minutes all year long.
Redshirt-senior forward Natasha Thames and fifth-year senior guard Shi-Heria Shipp will depart from Temple after their most successful collegiate seasons.
Thames, a second team All-Conference selection, averaged 10.5 points per game, and she finished her career with record for the most games played, and ranked sixth all-time in rebound for the program.
Transferring after four years at George Washington, Shipp finished the year second in rebounds and steals, starting in 23 games.
Despite a losing season, the lasting impressions of the Owls’ season will be the emergence of freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald as the team’s go-to scorer, and freshman center Taylor Robinson as the team’s much-needed replacement on the front line.
Earning a unanimously-voted spot in The American All-Freshmen team and a place on the second team All-Conference list, Fitzgerald led the Owls offense with 12.6 points and four assists per game.
Robinson was also named to the conference’s All-Freshmen team, averaging nearly five points and four rebounds per game.
“I’m going to try to expand my game even more by getting in the gym more this year to prepare for next year and the two years after that,” Fitzgerald said.
Leaning heavily on freshmen to produce from day one, the Owls were doomed to fall to inconsistencies and mistakes throughout the year, but the season could enable future stars to better cope with the difficulties of The American.
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.