The women’s basketball team showcased a near perfect performance last Saturday after trampling St. Bonaventure 68-36 as a warm-up for their conference showdown with Saint Joseph’s tonight at the Liacouras Center.
But this game holds greater implications. A win tonight will put Temple a step closer to clinching the top seed along with a first-round bye in the Atlantic Ten Tournament.
“As far as motivating, this is one of those games where you don’t have to say too much,” Temple coach Dawn Staley said following Saturday’s win. “Our players know how big the rivalry is between the two teams.”
The win over the Bonnies kept Temple (15-8 overall, 11-1 A-10) a step ahead of West Division leader George Washington (18-5, 9-1) and two games ahead of the Hawks (15-8, 9-3). It also provided Temple’s seldom-used role players an opportunity to get some game experience as the Owls continue their stretch run to the A-10 Tournament, where bench play can become vital.
“At this point, we start the game and we’re really up and in people’s faces, and it’s hard because you get tired a little bit easier,” Staley said. “It’s always good to get a fresh pair of legs in there to keep it going and take things to another level.”
Temple’s abundance of energy off the bench left the Bonnies looking confused offensively and fatigued defensively. The Owls’ persistent defense controlled the passing lanes and forced St. Bonaventure into a season-high 24 turnovers.
Success for the Owls tonight may depend on their ability to replicate that statistic.
“We’re playing to win the basketball game, and the best way for us to do that is for us to pressure them as much as possible and not let them get comfortable,” Staley said. “When they’re comfortable, they’re a pretty decent basketball team, so we’ve got to disrupt their offense.”
Junior forward Ari Moore and senior guard Toni Belafonte especially will be key to the Owls defensive schemes against the Hawks. Moore, who recorded four steals against the Bonnies, will be matched up with Stephanie Graff, the Hawks’ leading scorer.
Belafonte has registered just 16 steals on the season, but typically occupies an uncanny amount of space with her slim 5-foot-9-inch frame. Her ability to create matchup problems will be crucial for the Owls to establish a defensive presence.
Temple must continue to share the ball. With point guard Cynthia Jordan leading the way, the Owls distributed 23 assists against St. Bonaventure, the highest output as a team since they handed out 25 against East Tennessee State in November.
Temple’s 292 assists is currently the fourth-lowest total in the A-10 – St. Joseph’s is currently third best at 329 – so it needs to move the ball effectively and take high-percentage shots.
“Coach always emphasizes that, as a team, we need to get our assists up,” senior guard Christena Hamilton said. “That’s how we win games and that’s how we pull away from games.
It kind of reminds me of Xavier, where we had a lot of assists. We cannot be beat when we play like that, because we have a lot of weapons if we get everybody involved and everybody in the flow.”
“Bottom line,” Staley said, “Our defensive pressure has got to create some extra opportunities on the offensive end.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.