One down. No. 1 to go.
In a messy, foul-laden game, the women’s basketball team escaped with a 68-61 win over Brown in the season opener Friday night. The Owls open at home tonight against LSU, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll and No. 1 by Sports Illustrated.
“If we expect to win against LSU, we are going to have to tighten a few things,” coach Dawn Staley said.
In the first half at Brown, the Owls (1-0) dawdled to 29 first-half points. Twenty-three of those came from junior center Candice Dupree and sophomore forward Kamesha Hairston, who combined to score Temple’s first 18 points.
In the second half, the game turned ugly. Brown trailed by only six points with 15 minutes remaining. Temple then went on a 13-4 run to extend its lead to 49-34 with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
The Bears, who played most of the second half in foul trouble, were not discouraged. Over the next six minutes, the Bears trimmed the lead to five. Dupree chipped in six of her game-high 25 points to help Temple pull away, but the Bears hit two three pointers and four free throws in the last minute to narrow the deficit to three points.
Junior guard Jennifer Owens and senior forward Ari Moore sank two free throws each in the waning seconds to seal the win.
The teams combined for 49 fouls and 61 foul shots in the game. Dupree was just two free throws short of breaking the single-game school record of 15, set 22 years ago. She finished 13-of-17 from the free throw line.
The Owls enter tonight’s game wanting just a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, while LSU has visions of winning a national championship.
“With the level of competition they bring, this game could be over in the first five minutes or the last five minutes,” Staley said. “We’re hoping it’s the last five.”
The Tigers (4-0) boast one of the nation’s best backcourts in junior Seimone Augustus and senior Temeka Johnson. Augustus, a preseason player of the year nominee, has gained a reputation as a big-game player. She performed better in games against top competition last season, averaging 26.3 points per game in the first four games of the NCAA Tournament leading up to the Final Four. Johnson, another of the nation’s best guards, provides experience and court vision to complement Augustus’ speed.
According to Staley, the Owls can adjust to what the Tigers will bring in the opening minutes of tonight’s game.
“We have to know when to run it on them because they are a team that can be transitioned on,” Staley said. “If you make a mistake like that though, this is the kind of team that will make you pay early. We’ll watch what they do and stick to our game plan. Then we have a shot to win.”
If the Tigers go with the transition approach, the Owls will try to slow the game’s tempo by running the offense through Dupree in the post, Staley said. But if LSU decides to walk up the court, the Owls will run the offense through their backcourt and take shots from the perimeter.
Dupree remembers last year’s meeting with LSU. After keeping the score close through the first half, the Owls were outmatched in the second, eventually dropping the game, 68-52. For Dupree, redemption is at stake. Under Staley, the Owls have yet to defeat a ranked opponent.
“That would be great,” Dupree said of knocking off the No. 1 team. “I felt like we put up a real good fight against them last year. We have a lot more big men to throw on them this year. This time around is going to be much better.”
Dupree isn’t the only Owl excited to take on the Tigers.
“It means a lot to us to see big names like LSU on our schedule,” Hairston said.
Moore was practical in her assessment of the Tigers.
“They put on their jerseys and tie their sneakers just like we do,” Moore said.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.