Following Friday’s first-round win over Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, sophomore guard Rateska Brown said the key is “playing like a family.”
When senior center Victoria Macaulay was subbed out with five seconds left in Temple’s 66-55 loss in the semifinals against Fordham, she concluded her illustrious career with the assurance that the Owls were, in fact, a family.
“We enjoy being around each other,” Macaulay said. “I just didn’t want that to end. Learning what family really means and learning how to be a leader and a great teammate, I learned a lot from this program and I’ll continue to let it advance my game in the future.”
The final score of the Owls’ A-10 tournament semifinals loss to the Rams does not indicate how tough of a battle Temple put up. After upsetting both Xavier and Charlotte, the Owls trailed by a mere one point at the break.
However, Temple’s (14-18) cinderella run as the 10-seed came to an end after the third-seeded Rams shot 52 percent in the second half. As the Owls gave up wide open buckets down the stretch, all they were doing was listening to coach Tonya Cardoza.
“I don’t question our effort at all,” Cardoza said. All season long we’ve been preaching weak-side help. And it just so happened that today we really decided to pay attention to that, and it killed us. The weak-side help was there, and [Fordham] knew that.”
While the Owls responded to what they were taught, Fordham (24-7) freshman forward Samantha Clark, who was named A-10 Rookie of the Week five times this season, hit two pivotal threes and secured a trip to the A-10 Championship for the Rams.
Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said Temple’s scrappy effort came as no surprise.
“I think [Temple] came in with a lot of confidence,” Gaitley said. “So we knew that it was going to be a very difficult game.”
Brown and sophomore point guard Tyonna Williams went up against a veteran group of Fordham guards in senior guard Arielle Collins and redshirt-junior guard Erin Rooney. Brown finished with 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting after scoring a career-high 23 points in yesterday’s upset over second-seeded Charlotte. Williams shot just 2-of-12 for seven points and six assists.
“We have a lot of heart, a lot of fight in us,” Brown said. “The past few days, we played our hearts out. But Fordham did a good job. They made shots.”
“They’re guards did a great job in defending our guards,” Williams said. “I felt like they pressured us and at times they took us out of our comfort zone. But at times I felt like we answered and took them out of their comfort zone. We were doing what we were supposed to do but by the time we rotated to the open person, the ball was already through the net.
Likewise, the Fordham backcourt gave credit where credit is due following the game. Rooney finished with a game-high 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting to go along with six assists. Collins backed Rooney with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
“They have a lot of young guards but they definitely don’t play young,” Collins said. “They have a really good shooter [in Brown], which we got locked into a lot of screens and took us out of help-defense. And also [Williams] is really quick so I had to keep her in front and now let her have any easy baskets.”
As Macaulay’s collegiate career has come to an end, so has Temple’s time in the A-10. With the transition to the Big East next season, Cardoza said not being able to accomplish what she set out to do in the A-10 is disappointing.
“Obviously we play this game to win and to win championships,” Cardoza said. “But again, the fight these guys gave…and I told them in the locker room, you guys have waited until the last three days to do what we’ve been asking you to do all year long.”
The Rams made spoiling Temple’s going away party a goal of theirs.
“It’s actually one of my favorite things that coach Gaitley does, is she gives us a little goal each game,” Collins said. “And one of those goals was actually that Temple was leaving the conference. She said when someone’s leaving the conference you kind of want to finish them off with a win, send them off and know that we beat them.”
As Cardoza’s coveted leader, Macaulay finishes her senior season averaging 14.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. She is ranked fourth all-time in Temple history with 203 blocks, and tenth all-time in rebounding with 706 boards.
But, statistics aside, Macaulay said she would like to be remembered for a few particular qualities.
“Just being mentally tough,” Macaulay said. “Just loving the sport and being committed to the sport.”
If Gaitley’s words are any indication, Macaulay’s legacy will surely live on.
“I think [Macaulay] has done an outstanding job,” Gaitley said. “That was one of my concerns, because she was one of the few kids left at Temple that had had that success in the NCAA. And I knew that she didn’t want to leave on that note.”
With the win over Temple, Fordham has advanced to take on fourth-seeded St. Joe’s in the A-10 Championship game next Saturday, March 16 at the Barclays Center.
As for the Owls, while their valiant cinderella run has ultimately fallen short, they will look to pick up where they left off, but this time in the Big East.
“The way we ended it, that’s the way we need to start [next season],” Cardoza said.
Tyler Sablich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TySablich.