The buzz from a fiery Temple crowd gained steam as the home team regained possession, down by one point to the best women’s team in college basketball.
That steadily increasing buzz turned into an all-out explosion seconds later, as freshman center Taylor Robinson finished off a layup off the glass down low, punched the air and subsequently tested her vocal cords, having just given Temple the lead well into the first half of its American Athletic Conference bout with an undefeated, top-ranked University of Connecticut team.
The crowd rocked as the scoreboard updated, and the clock read 7:54 left to play in the stanza.
That was about as loud as the Temple faithful would get, though, as the Huskies reminded those in attendance just why they’re enjoying an unblemished season to date by dominating the Owls from the latter portion of that first half until the final whistle, before exiting the court with a 93-65 win at McGonigle Hall Tuesday night.
From the opening tip, the Huskies (22-0, 9-0 The American) did what they do for the first five minutes of the contest.
They dominated defensively, swarming the Owls (10-10, 4-5 The American) and forcing tough shots on seemingly every Temple possession.
They were seamless in transition, passing, weaving and executing their way through a stunned Temple defense that had seen this before.
What was different from a certain 80-36 loss to Connecticut on Jan. 11, however, was that this time Temple fought back.
Coming off a much-needed timeout facing an 18-4 deficit, freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald woke up the team and half of the building with a 3-point statement.
Consecutive turnovers and a few missed shots later for the Huskies, the Owls found themselves within three points after an 11-0 run. An 8-0 run a short time later culminated in Robinson’s loud layup and Temple’s only lead of the contest.
Temple later made it a 27-26 Connecticut game with 5:58 left in the half, but never got closer.
“They got out on a quick [18-4] run and we had to call a couple of timeouts,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “I felt like we really started fighting at that point. We were getting stops and getting out and scoring in transition.”
The Huskies had built up a 49-32 lead by half’s end, outscoring Temple 22-6 in the final six minutes as Connecticut sophomore forward Breanna Stewart heated up and ended up dropping 25 of her career-high 37 points in the first half.
“When [Stewart] gets going like that, she gets into those grooves where every time she shoots the ball, it goes in and it doesn’t matter where she is on the floor,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “There are a lot of things that she does that are very difficult to do and she makes them look easy. I’m glad we have her.”
A Fitzgerald jumper brought the Owls within 15 points to kick off the scoring in the latter half, and 15 was as close as they would get as the Huskies blew the game open early in the half and never relented.
“Right at the end of the [first] half, we had crucial turnovers that changed a seven-point lead into a 17-point lead for them,” Cardoza said. “We were careless with the basketball and our turnovers again led to easy opportunities down the other end. It was like a boxing match. We hung in there for about three rounds, and once they punched us right at the end of the half, it was just too much to come back from.”
Junior guard Rateska Brown led Temple with 13 points, while Robinson turned in 18 quality, confidence-boosting minutes with eight points and five rebounds in her sixth start of the season.
“I gained confidence,” Robinson said. “Early on throughout the season, I was struggling and I wasn’t really confident. When we were in practice, I just learned to work through it, try and get better and carry that into the game.”
Four Connecticut shooters hit double-digits on a night in which the Huskies shot 58 percent (39-for-67) as a team.
Temple shot 36 percent (22-for-62) and were outrebounded, 39-30. The Huskies also won the turnover battle largely thanks to a very aware and quick defense that helped force 20 Temple turnovers, as opposed to 14 Connecticut miscues.
While the final score line screamed blowout as the final seconds wound down, the Owls fought and made it a game for 15 minutes against a Huskies squad that dispatched a then third-ranked Stanford team by 19 points, a second-ranked Duke squad by 22 on Dec. 13 and No. 9/7 Baylor by a 10-point margin on Jan. 13.
And it helps to have hundreds of jubilant college kids on your side, no?
“I definitely feel like that was part of the reason why we were able to come back,” Cardoza said. “[The fans] were wild and really into it and I feel like our players definitely fed off of that. … I hope they continue to come out and support it because we’ll definitely need it.”
Temple will look to end its three-game losing skid on the road at Southern Methodist University Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.
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