Slow start dooms Owls in loss to Tennessee

All season long, the women’s basketball team has depended on strong play from its frontcourt, led by all-America candidate Candice Dupree.

The frontcourt that has fueled the Owls’ success through the non-conference schedule struggled last night, as No. 1 Tennessee dominated the Owls, 75-50, at the Liacouras Center.

The Owls found themselves overmatched by a bigger and quicker team in the Lady Volunteers, who dominated the paint on both sides of the ball. The Lady Vols were able to drive to the net and pull down rebounds with ease.

Freshman forward Candace Parker led the Lady Vols’ attack with 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting in just 26 minutes of play. She also brought down five boards and blocked four shots, all on a left ankle she sprained three minutes into the game.

“She’s such a great rebounder and great scorer,” Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said of Parker. “For our basketball team we wanted to establish an inside game and I wanted Candace, on the inside, to do so.”

A combination of Temple shooting struggles and foul trouble allowed the Lady Vols to jump to an early lead, from which the Owls were unable to recover. Temple shot just 28 percent in the first half, in which junior forward Kamesha Hairston missed all seven of her shots.

Similarly, sophomore center Lady Comfort could not get comfortable, leaving the court with 8:55 remaining in the first half after committing her second foul.

The loss concluded the Owls’ toughest stretch of the season, in which they played three Southeastern Conference powerhouses – No. 17 Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee – and city rival Villanova. They went 2-3 over the stretch and are at risk of falling out of the national rankings for the first time in 15 weeks, dating back to last season.

Coach Dawn Staley said the Owls are still hurting from inexperience and said they need to learn to play a strong 40 minutes.

“It’s a constant battle,” Staley said. “But it’s a battle that most of the country has to deal with. [When] we find a cure, we’re going to be a rich program.”

The Owls led by 6-4 in the first – they led at just two points in the game – when Parker turned her ankle on teammate Nicky Anosike’s foot. Shanna Zolman, Tennessee’s leading scorer, exited a few minutes later due to foul trouble. With the Lady Vols’ top two scorers on the sideline, the Owls were able to stay within striking distance.

“We got one of their outside threats into foul trouble,” Staley said. “We just couldn’t hit any buckets.”

But upon both players’ return with 9:48 remaining in the first half, the Lady Vols went on a 13-6 run to end the half with a 31-17 lead. A minute prior to the intermission, the Owls trailed by more points than they had on the scoreboard, at 31-15.

The Owls came out strong in the second half, hitting their first seven shots. The sweet shooting pulled the Owls within 14 points. But the Lady Vols responded with a 12-3 run that extinguished any hope of a comeback.

NOTES
The Lady Vols led by as many as 32 points, with 4:27 remaining in the second half. Their lead was a sharp contrast to last season’s matchup, in which the Owls’ lost by four points and trailed by only one at halftime. … The two ranked teams played in front of the largest crowd ever to attend a women’s basketball game at Temple. The paid attendance was 5,114.

UP NEXT
The Owls begin Atlantic Ten Conference play at noon on Jan. 6 against Charlotte, following an eight-day layoff.

The Niners, in their first year in the A-10, boast a veteran squad that has taken the school’s program to its peak. Seniors Pam Brown, Sakellie Daniels and Andrea Davidson have led them to three straight postseason berths, the program’s longest streak on the Division I level.

All three players average double-digit scoring, with Daniels’ 14.9 points per game leading the team. Brown leads the Niners with 5.6 rebounds per game.

Charlotte came out on the winning end of an 80-68 finish on Dec. 28, 1998, in the only prior meeting between the teams.

PHOTOS
For more photos from the Owls’ 75-50 loss to No. 1 Tennessee, please visit Temple News staff photographer Steve Gengler’s Web site at www.stephengengler.com/tenn1.html

John Kopp can be reached at jpk85@juno.com.

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