Temple University women’s basketball finished last in The American Athletic Conference in scoring defense last season.
“We never really bought into defensive concepts or the idea of just sitting down and guarding someone and trying to stop them from scoring,” said head coach Tonya Cardoza.
The Owls believe their extra focus on defense during fall practices and renewed “team bond” will help them improve for their upcoming spring schedule.
The Owls’ schedule hasn’t been officially announced yet, despite AAC play beginning as early as Dec. 14, The Temple News reported.
Not only were the Owls last in scoring defense, but they finished seventh in field goal percentage defense and 10th in 3-pointer defense last season.
Cardoza thinks the team’s emphasis on defense will lead to improved finishes in those categories this coming season, she said.
“Our mindset defensively is a lot better,” Cardoza added. “I think so far this year just in the two, three months we’ve been able to work with them they want to play defense, they want to get stops.”
The players have seen improvement on the defensive end during practices, said senior forward Mia Davis.
“We want to get better, we want to help each other out,” Davis added.
Temple will also have more defensive-minded players who will see more playing time compared to last year because guards Marissa Mackins and Ashley Jones are no longer on the team, Cardoza said.
Their minutes are anticipated to go to freshman guards Jasha Clinton and Kash Ayuso, as well as transfer graduate student guard Jada Graves, Cardoza added.
Clinton averaged 3.9 steals per game during her senior season at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Graves led Elon University with 58 steals during the 2019-20 season and was named the 2017-18 CAA Defensive Player of the Year while at Elon.
As a team, the Owls only averaged 4.4 steals per game last season, while Mackins led the team with just 29 total steals and Jones finished second with 23 steals.
“Clinton is definitely a defensive-minded person,” Cardoza said. “Ayuso, she doesn’t have a loud voice, but she’s more committed to trying to do the right thing on the defensive side, and Graves as well.”
With a number of new players expected to get playing time, the team’s chemistry and bond will be important this season, Cardoza said.
“They really rely on one another,” Cardoza added. “I think they’re extremely close and more importantly, I think our mindset on the court is trying to make sure we understand and get things.”
Both Davis and junior forward Alexa Williamson believe the team’s close relationship allows them to better handle criticism from the coaching staff and other team members.
Davis is the team’s captain, meaning she is responsible for leading the team both during games and off the court.
“I feel like since we’re so close it’s easy to tell each other what we’re doing wrong without getting offended,” Williamson said.
The Owls have never won the AAC regular season or tournament championship since joining the conference prior to the 2013-14 season, but they’re still setting it as the main goal this season.
“I want to win the conference and go as far as we possibly can,” Williamson said.