After Monday’s overtime loss to Memphis on senior day at McGonigle Hall to end the regular season, coach Tonya Cardoza said all the Owls had left to play for in the upcoming American Athletic Conference tournament was pride.
Temple had a seven-game losing streak in January and a five-game losing streak in February before it entered the tournament as the No. 11 seed out of 12 teams. The Owls (12-18, 3-13 The American) extended their season with a 72-59 win against sixth-seeded Wichita State (14-17, 9-7 The American) on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
Temple advances to face No. 3 Central Florida (20-9, 12-4 The American) on Sunday at noon at Mohegan Sun Arena. By virtue of being one of the conference’s top four seeds, Central Florida earned an automatic spot in the conference quarterfinals.
The first time the Owls played Wichita State this season on Feb. 14, the Shockers shot 70 percent from the field to set a single-game program record. Temple held Wichita State to 38.3 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range on Saturday.
Cardoza, who became the program’s all-time winningest coach last season, earned her 200th victory. Senior guard Tanaya Atkinson led all scorers with 24 points and added a team-high seven rebounds. Freshman guard Emani Mayo tied her career-high with 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field.
Atkinson and Mayo received recognition from The American before the weekend’s action started on Saturday. Atkinson earned first-team distinction and won the conference’s Most Improved Player award on Friday. Mayo and freshman forward Mia Davis earned selection to the All-Freshman Team.
Temple outscored Wichita State in every quarter, but it never outscored the Shockers by more than five points in any period. The Owls’ most productive quarter came immediately after halftime when they scored 24 points in the third.
Shockers redshirt-senior forward Rangie Bessard led her team with 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting. She scored a career-high 38 points the first time Wichita State played Temple.
The Owls faced Central Florida twice in the regular season and lost both matchups. The Knights shot 49.2 percent from the field and held Temple to 3-for-16 from 3-point range in their 76-46 win on Dec. 30 in Florida. They held Temple to 18.5 percent from 3-point range in their 64-57 win in January at McGonigle Hall.
Redshirt-senior guard Zakiya Saunders combined for 35 points on 15-for-27 shooting from the field in the Knights’ wins against Temple.
Central Florida has the best 3-point defense in The American and the second-best overall defense behind UConn (29-0, 16-0 The American), which is the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. The Knights closed the regular season by winning four of their last five games.
A strong conference tournament run is crucial to Central Florida, which is a “First Four Out” team in ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme’s Saturday NCAA Tournament projection. Creme projects The American to only earn one at-large bid in the form of fifth-seeded South Florida (24-6, 13-3 The American), which is the No. 20 team in the AP poll.
The NCAA Tournament bracket will be announced on March 12.