With only four regular season games remaining, Dawn Staley and the Temple women’s basketball team have their sights set on winning the Atlantic Ten Conference and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
More importantly however, Staley is thinking about getting her team back on track if they hope to achieve either of those lofty goals.
Despite a 74-66 victory over Duquesne at the Liacouras Center Sunday, the Owls didn’t play their best basketball according to their eighth-year coach.
“We certainly have to play better than we did, just intensity wise,” she said. “There’s so much a coaching staff can do. We can’t teach effort.”
Senior guard Ashley Morris agreed.
“I don’t really know how everybody feels about the game, if they’re as passionate as I am about it,” Morris said. “If they’re not going to play for themselves, we tell them to play for the university, play for us. If you can’t find it in yourself, you have to find it somewhere else.”
The Owls are 15-11 overall and 8-2 in the A-10, which currently locks Temple in a first place tie with George Washington. The Owls are trying to win their fifth A-10 championship in eight years and their first since 2006.
The season started with a 38-point win over Central Michigan, but then the Owls dropped three straight. There has been a stretch of streaks: a three-game and seven-game winning streak, along with a four-game losing streak.
“I like where we are in the conference. We’ve actually lost some games that we don’t usually drop,” Staley said. “That’s probably because of how hard the schedule was this year.”
Temple went 2-5 against ranked teams this season. They upset Purdue and conference rival George Washington, but lost to Georgia, Duke, Stanford, Maryland and Rutgers.
Despite their record against those teams, scheduling games against ranked opponents may have boosted the Owls resume in their bid for the NCAA Tournament. Before Sunday’s game, Temple sported the 28th-strongest schedule in the nation and was ranked 52nd in Rating Percentage Index according to NCAA.com.
RPI is a rating system that calculates winning percentage, strength of schedule and opponent strength of schedule, among other factors.
“For the most part, we held serve. We beat a couple of Top 25 teams,” Staley said. “I’d like to see us win out and I’d be really happy with our performance in the A-10.”
But it all comes back to the present for Staley.
Staley said her team, who blew an eight-point halftime lead to the Dukes (11-14, 2-8 A-10) Sunday, is not where they need to be at this juncture of the season.
“We’re a little far off right now,” Staley said. “If the tournament started today, I’d say no, we wouldn’t win the tournament. We need other people to step up on a consistent basis in order for us to win. We need more than that. You’re going to need seven, eight [players] to win the tournament.”
One thing Staley said she does know is that her leaders will be ready to play whenever. She’s referring to seniors – Morris and center Lady Comfort. Both proved they are always ready, especially when teammates aren’t performing, with their showings against Duquesne.
Comfort had 16 points and grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds, eight on the offensive glass while Morris, the A-10 Co-Player of the Week last week, scored a game-high 27 points on 11-of-22 shooting.
The problem, like Staley said, is getting the rest of the team to produce.
If the Owls don’t rediscover their game, the coach said they will find themselves on the losing end at Saint Joseph’s Wednesday.
“[If] we play like this on Wednesday, we’ll get a major beat down, literally,” Staley said. “I think the atmosphere of what we’re going to face on Wednesday will be a tell-tale sign of what it’s going to be like during the tournament. As much as we can talk about it I think playing St. Joe’s at St. Joe’s is going to give us a very similar atmosphere to winning the Atlantic 10 Championship there.”
With the regular season winding down, Morris knows the postseason is looming.
As her coach continues to emphasize, all that matters is the next game.
The Owls finish up conference play at St. Joe’s, then return home for a matchup against Fordham before hitting the road again to take on Saint Louis and finally finishing up with a home game against Massachusetts. The four remaining teams have a combined record of 35-65.
“We know what each other are capable of doing; we expect that from everybody,” Morris said. “We’re going to come out here and try to win every game because we know we’re trying to get a good seed in our tournament and we’re fighting for a spot.
“As a team we have to play our best basketball in order to get into the NCAA Tournament, win the A-10, do whatever we have to do as a team.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.