Temple to face strong AAC opponents at McGonigle Hall

SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS
Senior guard Tanaya Atkinson makes a jump shot during the Owls’ 80-72 loss against South Florida on Jan. 10. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / FILE PHOTO

After starting with a 7-2 record, Temple hasn’t won back-to-back games since its three-game winning streak from Nov. 29 to Dec. 7.

Temple (9-7, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) has lost four of its past five games, most recently falling to Cincinnati, 80-72, on Saturday in Ohio. Each of the four teams that have beaten Temple shot 49 percent or better from the field. Cincinnati shot 52.6 percent and scored 50 points in the paint.

“Losing is part of it, but I know we’re going to lose games,” coach Tonya Cardoza told The Temple News after Saturday’s game. “I’m more concerned because I want us to be getting better every game, but we’re stunted. We’re not getting better, and we’re not making the changes we need to be making defensively.”

Thirteen games remain for Temple, including Tuesday’s against conference opponent Houston at McGonigle Hall. The Cougars (14-5, 3-2 The American) are No. 48 in the Ratings Percentage Index and one of three teams in The American in the top 50 of the RPI as of Monday.

After their matchup with Houston, the Owls will face Connecticut (15-0, 5-0 The American), which is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and RPI, on Sunday at McGonigle Hall.

Temple has played in either the Women’s National Invitation Tournament or the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons, including last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance. Temple ended the 2014-15 season with an overtime loss in the WNIT semifinals. It lost in the WNIT quarterfinals the next season before it lost, 71-70, against the University of Oregon in the NCAA Tournament on March 18.

Since becoming the coach for the 2008-09 season, Cardoza has only missed qualifying for those tournaments in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

If Temple were to make the NCAA Tournament this season, the program would record back-to-back appearances for the first time since its run of eight straight showings from 2003-11. Former coach Dawn Staley led five of those squads.

ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme’s latest NCAA Tournament projection includes two teams from The American, Connecticut and South Florida (14-4, 4-1 The American), which beat the Owls, 89-73, on Wednesday and is ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Temple is ranked No. 158 in the RPI with losses to top-50 ranked Rutgers University, University of South Carolina, Villanova and South Florida, plus a loss to No. 52 Central Florida (11-7, 3-2 The American). All of those teams are in Creme’s latest NCAA bracket except for Central Florida. Temple earned a top-100 RPI win against Harvard University on Dec. 2, when the Owls held the Crimson to an 8-for-38 performance from 3-point range.

Rebounding and 3-point defense have been strengths for Temple. The Owls’ opponents only shoot 28 percent from 3-point range. Temple has held three teams — Wagner College, Hampton University and St. Joseph’s — to less than 15 percent.

Senior guard Tanaya Atkinson leads The American in both rebounding and scoring per game, and freshman forward Mia Davis is fourth in the league in rebounding. The Owls grab the third most offensive rebounds per game in the conference.

Temple is into the heat of its American Athletic Conference schedule. Its final nonconference game is at home on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. against Penn. Because South Florida, Central Florida and Connecticut are in The American, Temple will get to play them twice. Tuesday will be the Owls’ only matchup against Houston.

If Temple cannot put itself into position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, it would have to win The American’s postseason tournament to earn the conference’s automatic qualification.

Connecticut hasn’t lost a game in The American since its formation for the 2013-14 season. The American Athletic Conference tournament will be held from March 3-6 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Evan Easterling
can be reached at evan.easterling@temple.edu Or you can follow Evan on Twitter @Evan_Easterling Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews

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