After three missed chances to tie the game with less than 30 seconds left, junior guard Khadijah Berger looked down at the court in disbelief.
Temple had an opportunity to beat its second Top 25 team of the season but fell 55-51 to South Florida on Sunday for the Owls’ first loss in the American Athletic Conference.
It was an unfamiliar feeling for the Owls, who hadn’t lost since Dec. 7 and came into the matchup on a 12-game win streak.
“It was a tough loss,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I thought we really fought hard in that fourth quarter. But to start the game, I thought we just got caught up in ourselves as individuals, focusing on the shots we weren’t making.”
The Owls (16-4, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) trailed for almost the entire game and faced a double-digit deficit for most of the contest, but made a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter. Cardoza went with five guards to start the quarter in order to give a different look against South Florida.
Berger joined senior Feyonda Fitzgerald and juniors Alliya Butts, Tanaya Atkinson and Donnaizha Fountain as the fifth guard on the court. She added instant offense that sparked a comeback. Berger went on a personal 8-0 run to bring Temple within single digits for the first time since the first bucket of the third quarter.
Berger hit another three to bring all the fans in McGonigle Hall to their feet and cut the deficit to two points with one minute, 45 seconds left. After a hectic minute and a half, Berger would have two more 3-point attempts — one to give the Owls the lead and then one to tie it. She missed both and Temple missed out on a fourth-quarter comeback.
Temple had one of its worst shooting games of the season against South Florida. The Owls shot just 25.8 percent from the floor and 18.5 percent from three.
The players Temple leaned on all season had the most evident struggles. Fitzgerald and Butts combined to shoot 8-for-37 from the floor and 2-for-17 from three.
“My midrange jumper just wasn’t falling,” Fitzgerald said. “I was trying to attack the basket and shoot from the midrange if they wouldn’t let me get to the basket, but I just couldn’t get my shot to fall.”
For the first time in almost two months, Temple will go into its next game after a loss. Next up for the Owls is another Top 25 team: Connecticut.
The Huskies are currently in the middle of the longest winning streak in Division I basketball history. They have won 95 consecutive games since last losing to Stanford University in November 2014.
UConn is the only undefeated team in Division I and the only undefeated team in the American Athletic Conference during conference play. UConn has the second-best scoring margin in Division I behind Baylor University. The Huskies are outscoring their opponents by 31.6 points per game. The Owls’ game against the Huskies tips off on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Liacouras Center.
“I know [Connecticut] is gonna look at the film and use a lot of the things that we did against [South Florida],” Cardoza said. “Not to take anything away from South Florida, but we made a lot of mistakes that prevented us from winning that game.”
Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_kevinschaeffer.