South Florida proved too much for Temple to handle on Sunday afternoon.
The Owls’ 70-58 loss to the Bulls abruptly halted their three-game conference win streak and put the first blemish on their undefeated conference record.
Temple was never really in the game. It took the Owls close to four and a half minutes to score their first points. USF took advantage, jumping out to a 7-0 lead, and never looked back.
After beginning to click during the team’s three-game winning run, the Owls’ offense has sputtered during the last two contests.
The 58-point output on Sunday followed a 50-point effort by Temple against Penn last week.
At the center of the Owls’ offensive struggles against South Florida was the play of junior Erica Covile. During the last month of the season, Covile has emerged as the team’s go-to scorer.
Covile got her shots against USF, but could not convert. The 6-foot-1 guard made only one of her 11 attempts, totaling three points on the day.
She was not the only Owl to struggle shooting the ball. The team shot 29 percent from the floor for the game.
Shooting percentage has not been a favorable stat for the Owls all year. They are shooting just over 35 percent from the floor on the season.
Coach Tonya Cardoza points to the team’s inability to find a reliable post presence who can open up driving lanes for the guards as a reason for this.
“Teams scout us and they know who are players are and what we like to do and they’re just hanging out in the lane,” Cardoza said. “It’s going to be difficult to shoot high percentages because you’re always going to be shooting over two or three guys. They’re sitting there waiting for our guys to penetrate and we’re stuck taking more difficult shots than what we would normally want.”
While Covile struggled, freshman guard Alliya Butts picked up the slack, pouring in a career-high 24 points. The rookie did most of her damage from 3-point range, going 5-for-8 from downtown.
Butts seemed unimpressed by her impressive output and instead focused on the bigger picture after the game.
“It was good,” she said of her performance, “but we needed the win.”
On the other end of the court, the Owls didn’t have an answer to the Bulls’ offense. Led by leading scorer Courteny Williams, USF shot over 50 percent in the game. Williams, who was the conference’s second leading scorer prior to the game, poured in 21 points for the Bulls.
The Owls were aware of Williams’ scoring ability, but did not do enough to make sure they forced other players to beat them.
“Courtney’s a tough kid, a tough matchup,” Cardoza said. “She just got hot and I felt like we didn’t make sure that we guarded her. We talked about how we wanted other guys to shoot. We tried to get the ball out of her hands as much as possible, but she’s such a great player that she didn’t let that happen.”
For the second straight game, the Owls also found themselves in foul trouble. The team committed 23 fouls and had three players end with four personals.
Temple saw how much foul trouble hurt against Penn, when Erica Covile left the game early in a two-point loss. With limited depth, it’s important for the Owls to stay out of foul trouble.
“We just have to be smarter and understand how the officials are calling the game,” Cardoza said. “We got a lot of hand checks.”
The loss dropped the Owls to a tie for third place in the conference standings. They will go on the road to face No. 2 UConn on Wednesday.
After a month’s absence with a lower body injury, Safiya Martin returned to the lineup for the team … Temple only had four different players score in the first half … Feyonda Fitzgerald scored 17 points in the game. She has scored in double figures four of the five games since being removed from the starting lineup.
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.