Last season, Temple played South Florida three times.
A new-look Temple group faced the Bulls on Wednesday at McGonigle Hall. Only two Owls who played Wednesday also faced the Bulls last season. Even if this year’s Owls retained many of the players familiar with the Bulls, they would have faced a team with a different style of play than in the 2016-17 season.
“I feel like they definitely, on their offseason, they worked on their game because now I feel they’ve got five shooters on the floor all the time,” senior guard Tanaya Atkinson said.
South Florida (13-4, 3-1 American Athletic Conference), which is ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, made eight first-half threes and shot 50 percent overall in its 89-73 win against Temple (9-6, 1-2 The American).
South Florida rebounded from a 51-point loss to No. 1 Connecticut (14-0, 4-0 The American) on Saturday. The Bulls built an 18-point cushion going into halftime and led by 20 late in the fourth quarter.
After starting with a 7-2 record, Temple has gone 2-4. The stretch includes losses to a top-25 Villanova team, a Central Florida squad ranked No. 51 in the Ratings Percentage Index and the defending Division I champion, University of South Carolina.
Junior guard Kitija Laksa, the program’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers, made four threes in the first half and scored 19 of her 29 points in the first 20 minutes. Laksa now has 1,350 career points, which ranks 10th in Bulls history.
“In the first half, they had her spotted up in the corner and we were getting beat off the dribble,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “And the guy who was guarding her kept coming over to help, because that’s what we preach, opposite guy come over and help. Well now, you’re helping off their best player and that’s what they’re designed to do, to make that guy help and kick it to her so she’s wide open.”
At halftime, Cardoza talked about containing the Bulls’ dribble penetration, which led to defensive rotations and open 3-point shots for South Florida. The Bulls shot 1-for-7 from 3-point range in the second half, and Laksa shot 3-for-12 from the field.
South Florida shot 43.3 percent from the field in the second half. Senior forward Maria Jespersen, the 16th-leading scorer in program history, scored 10 of her 20 points in the second half.
“I thought we did a better job in the second half of not allowing them to really get any threes off, but in not allowing them to get threes off they were able to put the ball on the floor and score easy buckets,” Cardoza said. “But I definitely liked the fight in the second half that we showed. We just got to do a better job of capitalizing when we have opportunities.”
Temple outscored South Florida by two in the second half. Every time the Owls made a run, however, they became complacent after making stops and allowed an offensive rebound, Cardoza said. The Bulls outrebounded Temple by 12, including a four-rebound advantage on the offensive glass. They scored 17 second-chance points.
Atkinson had 20 of her 27 points and grabbed five of her six rebounds in the second half. Two other Owls finished in double figures. Freshman guard Emani Mayo shot 4-for-6 from the field and scored 11 points. Freshman forward Mia Davis had 15 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
The Owls’ next game is on Saturday on the road against Cincinnati (10-7, 2-2 The American). Cardoza wants more supplemental scoring to go with Atkinson, who entered the game 13th in Division I in points per game.
Cardoza doesn’t know when freshman guard Desiree Oliver, who hasn’t played since Dec. 2 due to a hand injury, will return to the lineup, she said.
“I felt like more people were involved and not just standing around and watching Tanaya,” Cardoza said. “I thought Mia started being really aggressive. Emani knocked down some shots. But again, we can’t just rely on Tanaya. We have to to have more guys getting involved, but more guys being confident, you know, just being confident in everything that they do.”
Sydney Schaefer contributed reporting.