The No. 17 women’s basketball team proved last weekend that it can come ready to play against tough competition.
The Owls will look to do so again Friday night at the Liacouras Center when they duke it out with George Washington for sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Ten Conference standings. The game will finish a three-game stretch that included three of the toughest A-10 opponents.
Both the Owls (20-6) and the Colonials (18-7) will enter that game with identical 11-3 A-10 records. They are one game behind Charlotte.
The Colonials snapped the Owls’ 24-game A-10 win streak on Jan. 11 when the Colonials ran away with a 58-41 win in Washington. The Colonials have won 13 of their last 15 games and are receiving votes in the Associated Press poll.
The Owls’ most difficult A-10 stretch began last week when they avenged an early-season road loss to Saint Joseph’s by downing the Hawks at the Liacouras Center. The win gave the Owls their second consecutive Big 5 Championship.
The Owls then traveled to Dayton and beat the Flyers, 70-36, on Sunday at UD Arena. The loss left the Flyers with an uphill battle for a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament.
Senior forward Candice Dupree said the Owls’ tough competition has helped the team prepare for next month’s conference tournament at St. Joe’s Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
“It’s always better to play tougher teams when you’re going into the tournament,” Dupree said. “More than likely, we’ll probably see them again come A-10 [tournament] time. But I think it definitely helps.”
The Owls received a boost last week by the return of senior point guard Jennifer Owens, who came off the bench in her first two games back. She had missed seven games with an injured left ankle.
Owens averaged 14 minutes and attempted just three field goals in those games, but coach Dawn Staley said the Owls would not have beaten the Hawks without Owens’ help.
“She just gives us a calm on both sides of the basketball that allows everybody to just kind of play and do their role,” Staley said. “And I think when we have other point guards out there everybody just wants to run the show and tell the point guard what to do and what to run. It’s not like that with Jen.”
Senior guard Khadija Bowens has turned up her play heading into the postseason. Over the Owls last eight games, Bowens has averaged 12.8 points per game.
“She’s an X-factor,” Staley said of Bowens. “An X-factor in that if she’s on, she can carry us to a victory. But if she’s off and lacking energy we can lose a lot of basketball games.”
TEMPLE 70 DAYTON 36
Dupree’s second consecutive 20-plus-point performance carried the Owls to a 70-36 win. The Owls dominated the glass, outrebounding the Flyers, 53-26. For the fifth time this season, sophomore forward Lady Comfort finished with a double-digit rebound total. Comfort had a team-high 11 boards and freshman forward Shenita Landry came off the bench to pull down a career-high 10 boards.
The Flyers kept pace with the Owls through the first 10 minutes of the game. The game was tied at 19 when the Owls went on a 24-6 run to finish the first half with a 43-25 lead.
The Owls’ defense forced the Flyers into coughing up the ball 13 times in the second half. Dayton made four field goals in the half as the Owls cruised to a win.
Last week Staley was named an assistant coach for the 2006 USA Women’s World Championship Team. On the international level, Staley has won three Olympic gold medals and two World Championship gold medals as a player. When Staley is on Team USA’s roster, the teams have a .952 winning percentage.
Staley joins Duke coach Gail Goestenkors and the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault as assistants under head coach Anne Donovan. The World Championship is scheduled for Sept. 12-23 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.