No one can call Dawn Staley a loser.
Staley, Temple women’s basketball’s first-year coach has never really lost in her career. From her three high school championships in Philadelphia, to her three trips to the NCAA Final Four at the University of Virginia.
When she took over the women’s basketball program at the beginning of the season, however, many people did call the program a loser, or at least an underachiever.
Staley’s winning attitude has turned a program that went 10-18 in 2000 into one that finished 18-9, with the third seed in the Atlantic-10 tournament this weekend at the Liacouras Center.
“I think it’s my approach to the game,” Staley said. “Basketball’s my passion. I speak from a passionate point of view.”
Temple has a first-round bye in the tournament and will take on the LaSalle-Fordham winner on Saturday at 6 p.m. Temple has two wins against each team.
Temple can earn their first bid to the NCAA tournament since 1989, when the Owls finished at 22-10. To get the berth they’ll have to make it to the championship game of the A-10 tourney, beating either LaSalle or Fordham and probably George Washington on the way. The championship is Monday at 5 p.m.
“We can control our destiny with our play,” Staley said. “You can’t leave it up to the (NCAA selection) committee.”
One committee that has its eye on Temple is the WNIT committee. Staley has received calls from them about playing in the tournament should the NCAA pass on the Owls. Staley, the winner that she is, doesn’t want to hear it.
“I don’t like to think about plan B when plan A is in effect,” she said.
The winner of the A-10 tournament gets an automatic bid into the NCAA’s. Xavier, ranked 12th in the nation, is the favorite to repeat as A-10 champions. Second-seeded George Washington, No. 4 Dayton, No. 5 St. Joe’s and No. 3 Temple all have a chance to make a run at the defending champions.
But the Musketeers have been tough this season dropping only one conference game to GW. Xavier won the regular season A-10 title.
Right now, though, all that matters is Saturday’s contest with either LaSalle of Fordham. LaSalle knocked out Temple in the first round last year. Players like senior Natalia Isaac would like to exact some revenge.
“We have a little bit of redemption on our minds,” she said. “It’s a brand new season, whatever happened in the regular season doesn’t count anymore.”
Isaac, this week’s (bold) player of the week for the third week in a row, will be a big part of that. She has come on strong at the end of the season frequently carrying the team on her back to wins. She scored 38 points including a game-winning three to beat UMass last Friday in overtime.
Isaac graduates this year but has another year of eligibility left. She says she’s on pace to graduate by the summer so that she can play another season.
Said Isaac: “When we play it’s the beginning of our new season so we see ourselves going very far.”