After losing to South Florida in last season’s American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, Temple was unsure of its postseason fate.
For a week, the Owls practiced not knowing if they were headed to the NCAA tournament — their coveted objective — or the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
When the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament were announced on Selection Monday last year, Temple was not one of them.
“We control our own destiny, and I don’t think we did enough,” coach Tonya Cardoza told The Temple News after learning her team’s fate last March.
On Sunday, the Owls faced South Florida in the conference tournament semifinals and lost once again. However, with a 24-7 record, a handful of top wins and a strong Ratings Percentage Index ranking, the Owls feel they can sit a little easier this year.
“We’re feeling more confident this year, knowing the work that we’ve done,” Cardoza said at a press conference after Saturday’s loss to the Bulls. “But a win [against South Florida] would’ve really put us over the edge for a better seed.”
Temple entered the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed, receiving a bye for the first round after a 13-3 conference record. It is the highest seed the Owls have earned since joining The American.
On Friday, the conference recognized the team for its strong season. Senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald was named a first-team all-American Athletic Conference selection, and junior guard Alliya Butts earned a second team selection.
Junior guard Tanaya Atkinson won The American’s Sixth Player of the Year. Cardoza was named The American’s co-coach of the year with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. She is the first person besides Auriemma to win the award.
Fitzgerald scored 30 points in Temple’s opening-round conference tournament win against Houston on Saturday.
“At the end of the first half was when I really got going,” Fitzgerald said. “My shots weren’t really falling in the beginning and I was cold, but at the end of the first half I started going to basketball and had some momentum. By the second half I was just hot and I just rolled with it.”
As the Owls were down by five with 53 seconds remaining in Saturday’s semifinal against South Florida, Atkinson was called for her fifth foul.
She looked at the referee, trying to plead her case, but the call stood. Atkinson crouched down, hitting her hands on the court. Cardoza hugged her before she took her place on the bench, fighting back tears when the camera zoomed in on her face.
Atkinson could only watch as Temple’s chances of going to The American’s conference tournament final for the first time ended with a 63-58 loss to South Florida.
The 64 teams in the NCAA tournament field will be announced on ESPN on March 13. ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme projects the Owls as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament after Saturday’s loss.
Cardoza had hoped that the team’s performance in the conference tournament could possibly move the Owls up to as high as a 4 or 5 seed, but the loss to South Florida cost her team another resume-boosting win.
Temple is in a lot better shape than last season when the Owls ended the year ranked No. 55. The Owls end the season ranked No. 18 in RPI. The team also has four Top 50 RPI wins, including victories against South Florida and DePaul University. The Bulls are ranked No. 29 in the RPI and DePaul is ranked No. 17. Last season, Temple had two wins against the Top 50.
Maura Razanausakas and Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TTN_Sports.