While the season opener featured a dramatic comeback, this time there was very little drama, as the women’s basketball team defeated Auburn, 66-52, and avenged last year’s 95-76 loss at Alabama.
“We wanted to come out and get revenge because of our loss last year, but it’s not the same team, so it doesn’t really matter,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “At this point, you just want to win games.”
Auburn has changed a lot since the last meeting. The Tigers lost four of their five starters to graduation, leaving junior guard Alli Smalley as the only returning starter.
“They rely solely on Smalley to score, and last year, they had a lot of guys that actually put points on the board,” Cardoza said. “Our game plan had to be to try to take the ball out of her hands as much as we possibly could.”
“Right from get-go, we wanted to come out with intensity. We knew what the game plan was, which was to contain No. 5,” junior guard Shaqwedia Wallace added. “It was a team effort. All of the guards rotated on her.”
And the team carried out that plan as it was drawn up, limiting Smalley to five points heading into halftime. Wallace got off to a great start on defense. She grabbed three steals in the first five minutes and turned them into easy points. The Owls dictated the pace of the game, forcing Auburn to eat up the shot clock and force bad shots. That led to the Tigers’ 25-percent shooting percentage from the field.
The roster split the scoring equally in the first half, as every Owl scored with the exception of senior guard LaKeisha Eaddy, who had her second consecutive scoreless first half. Eaddy picked up two quick fouls, which led to sophomore guard BJ Williams receiving more playing time off the bench. She also picked up two fouls but was able to handle the task of rotating to guard Smalley.
“BJ had two fouls, and she still kept her defensive intensity, so nothing dropped off,” Cardoza said.
In the second half, Auburn tried to outmuscle the Owls and found some offensive success with 6-foot-7-inch senior center KeKe Carrier, who finished the game with 12 points, all of which came in the paint.
“It was hard because she was really big, much bigger than I am,” freshman forward Natasha Thames said. “I knew they would lob the ball to her, so I would try to stay in front.”
Smalley also began to come alive offensively at that time, as she hit 3-for-5 from beyond the arc and added in a few short-range shots to finish with 19 points.
But this was a case of too little, too late, as Temple’s main offensive weapons broke out at the same time to suppress a potential comeback. Wallace would finish with 19 points after a 12-point second half. Sophomore forward Kristen McCarthy contributed 10 points, and Thames fell a point short of a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. The trio was also a major factor on the defensive end, as they combined for 10 steals.
The team looks to extend its winning streak during an upcoming road trip to Dartmouth and Buffalo. The Owls return to the Liacouras Center Nov. 24 to face Eastern Michigan in the first game of a women’s and men’s basketball doubleheader.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at email@example.com.