Like a war general watching over her troops before they go into battle, Dawn Staley sat atop the rafters, in the highest row, to observe her team during pre-game warm-ups.
The first-year head coach of Temple women’s basketball must have liked what she saw as her new-look Owls defeated the University of Pennsylvania 80-64 at St. Joseph’s Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
The game marked the first Big Five victory for Staley, and it came in a building where she spent countless hours practicing and playing in pickup games.
“It was a great game for us,” Staley said. “I really felt at home seeing all the familiar faces from when I use to come here everyday to work out. But we got a win, our first win in the Big Five, and I’m looking forward to continuing that.”
Led by point guard Stacey Smalls, Temple (4-1) took control of the game early using an up-tempo offense and a pressure defense that forced 27 Quaker turnovers. The pesky Cheltenham native recorded a career high seven steals, while leading the team with 14 points.
“Stacey Smalls was the key in the game, for them and for us,” said second-year Penn coach Kelly Greenberg. “She bothered us [and] played with unbelievable confidence.
“She stepped on the court and it was like ‘All right. This is my ball game and you’re just a part of it right now.’ I tip my hat to her.”
Two-time Big Five player of year Diana Caramanico led Penn with 18 points and 10 rebounds. But the Owls were extremely physical with the senior forward, knocking her around and making her earn every point. She finished the game shooting 6-of-13 from the field and was 6-of-10 from the free throw line.
“They were being physical but I wasn’t tough enough,” Caramanico said. “We can’t play the way we did and expect to win that game. It is disappointing because we expected to play better after that big win over LaSalle.”
In the first half, the Owls did a good job containing Caramanico on their way to a 23-10 lead after 11 minutes. Most of Temple’s points came off the 17 first-half Quaker turnovers.
Temple led Penn 32-20 at intermission, which was the lowest first-half total of the season for the Quakers.
To open the second half, Penn narrowed the 12-point deficit to 34-29 at the 16-minute mark. But the Owls retaliated with a 19-6 run that increased their lead to 19 points and put the Quakers away for good.
Christine Cruz scored 10 points for the Owls, while Lisa Jakubowicz added nine points and six rebounds for Temple.
The 4-1 record is Temple’s best start since 1985.