In a game decided by late lead changes, back and forth baskets and an off-balance three point shot, the Owls (3-2) handed Kentucky (4-4) its second straight defeat by an 86-82 margin Saturday afternoon at the Liacouras Center.
Seniors Christena Hamilton (20 points) and co-captain Toni Belafonte (18) led the way, each setting new career highs in scoring. While pacing the team on offense, the two helped Temple jump out to a 16-point lead late in the first half.
But Kentucky’s unprecedented 19-for-25 from the free throw line and sloppy ball movement by the Owls helped the Wildcats rally to tie the game and eventually take the lead midway through the second period.
With the Owls trailing by as many as nine with three minutes to go, Temple’s upperclassmen took over to push the game into overtime.
Sophomore center Candice Dupree started hitting baskets. Belafonte controlled the defensive end with ease. And point guard Cynthia Jordan tied the game with a shaky three-point shot in the waning seconds of regulation, sending the game into overtime.
“The way it started out was I was trying to run the play to [Hamilton],” said Jordan, who is in her first season as a starter. “But I went to the wrong side. Then I started to come back and there was only two seconds left so I had to get a shot up.”
Afterward, Coach Dawn Staley said the shot was good fortune and that Jordan could not have handled the situation better.
“We got lucky with that three-pointer,” Staley said.
That bit of luck salvaged Temple’s faltering play in the second half.
“The game plan was to attack their feet,” Belafonte said. “Their speed was a little slower than ours. We’re quicker and more athletic so it was just us sticking to the game plan.”
Game plan or no game plan, foul trouble and turnovers almost cost Temple the game. Just four days after dropping a career high 29 points, Dupree picked up two fouls in six minutes, a huge blow to the team’s offensive putout.
“Candice is our No. 1 option,” Staley said. “With her out of the game we rely heavily on our perimeter players and penetrating. We were fortunate that we were drawing a lot of fouls. That’s the way we stayed in the game.”
In the extra session, Temple cruised to victory by hitting all five of their shots from the field to seal Kentucky’s fate.
Leading the way for the Wildcats were SeSe Helm, Jenny Pfeiffer and Sara Potts, who each scored 14 points.
Despite the big win, the Owls are taking their schedule one game at a time; a Big 5 match-up on Friday is looming.
“We’re going to put this one behind us and go out and beat whoever’s next,” said Hamilton. “And Villanova is next.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com