Taru Tuukkanen can shoot from anywhere on the court, and against Temple, she pretty much did.
Tuukkanen, No. 18 Xavier’s 6-foot-3 senior center took 17 shots in her team’s 73-63 win last Friday night, she made 12.
From down low to the top of the key, Tuukkanen was hot. She scored a game-high 26 points, grabbed eight rebounds and made three blocks.
Tuukkanen had 16 points in the second half and had key baskets at key times to make sure Temple wouldn’t score an upset.
The Owls did challenge in the game. Their defense was relentless and forced 23 Xavier turnovers. But they couldn’t account for Tuukkanen’s shooting touch. When Temple packed in the defense in the paint; Tuukkanen hit shots from outside, and vise versa.
Add in post player Jennifer Phillips’ 10 points and shooter Nicole Levandusky’s 16, and Temple had a problem.
“We watched Temple a lot on film and to be honest with you we weren’t surprised how hard and excited they are to be playing and playing so well,” said Xavier coach Melanie Balcomb. “We have a lot of players with a lot of experience on the floor that played really hard and played together when things are tough.”
With the score 46-44, Temple’s Regan Apo drilled a three-pointer to get the lead, 47-44.
Xavier got two three-pointers to get the 52-47 lead before Stacey Smalls got Temple’s next long distance bomb. With the score tied at 52, Smalls missed a shot, Apo missed a three and then Tuukkanen scored.
Lisa Jakubowicz, who led the Owls with 15 points, missed a key layup and then Tuukkanen blocked a shot by Apo. Xavier went on a 9-3 run to take a 65-59 lead with four minutes left. Tuukkanen scored four of the nine points.
Temple got the lead down to four at 65-61 with 3:13 left, but then let the game slip away. Phillips made two free throws and then Apo missed a shot. Even worse, Smalls missed a layup.
Temple had to start fouling and lost the game 73-63.
Xavier used a lot of different screens to confuse Temple’s defense and it worked. Without having to work too hard to get open, Tuukkanen and Phillips were able to exploit the high-low game.
“I thought we had some miscues, some breakdowns defensively with their screens,” said Temple coach Dawn Staley. “They kept pushing and pushing until they got a comfort lead at the end.”
Temple had to struggle to get open shots with Xavier defenders in their face. Levandusky shut down Christina Cruz, who only scored five points in the game.
“Normally I’m known for always lunging out and trying to make a steal,” Levandusky said. “Coach told me I had to contain myself this game and keep them in front of me. I was just moving my feet tonight, you could say.”
Xavier’s strong inside presence on defense forced Temple to the outside where they were uncharacteristically cold. When trying to get inside, the team missed open layups and found nothing. Temple shot 37 percent from the field.
Jakubowicz shot 5-for-17 in the game and was forced outside her comfort zone. With Tuukkanen or Phillips breathing down her neck she had a rough time making shots. But some of her misses were on her.
“She’s got to get used to it because teams are going to be gunning for our shooters and our perimeter players,” Staley said. “She’s going to get the touches now she has to finish.”
“I’m working on my outside shot,” Jakubowicz said. “They’re falling in practice. They’re just not falling in the game. I just have to work on that I guess.”
Temple had more problems shooting the ball in their game against Dayton on Sunday.
The Owls shot a meager 30 percent from the field in the 63-55 loss. Apo missed five two pointers and four threes–all of her nine attempts.
Temple started the game with an 18-8 run. The Flyers’ Stefanie Miller hit a three-pointer starting a 20-12 run to end the half.
Kristy Hineline stole a bad Melissa Dunne pass and hit a driving layup to give the Flyers a 45-40 lead. Temple got within four with one minute left at 59-55 but Dayton hung on for the victory.
Temple had 22 turnovers compared to eight assists in what was one of their worst games of the season.
Smalls lead Temple with 19 points including two three pointers.
Coach Dawn Staley’s teammates from the gold medal winning USA Olympic team were scheduled to be on hand for Friday’s game against Xavier.
But the storm that dumped five inches of snow in Philadelphia on Saturday night grounded most of the player’s flights on Friday. Only Ruthie Bolton-Holifield was on hand to sign autographs.
Staley came out after the game and personally apologized to the 2,159 fans who set a Liacouras Center record for women’s basketball.
Staley promised that the event would be rescheduled.
When the storm actually hit Philadelphia, it crippled the attendance at Sunday’s game. Only 550 people braved the outside conditions to watch Temple play Dayton.
We break for success:
Temple had a successful winter break of basketball. The team went 4-3 over the winter school vacation.
On Jan. 11 they lost to No. 18 N.C. State by only seven points, 71-64. Temple beat Dayton on the road, 69-65, after beating St. Bonaventure, 84-74.
Temple’s trip to nationally ranked Vanderbilt was not as lucky, the Owls lost that game 70-51. The team’s only home game of the break, against Iona, produced a 70-67 win.
To start the vacation Temple traveled to New Mexico for the Lady Lobo Classic. The Owls lost in the opening game against New Mexico but beat Boise State in the consolation game, 82-51.
Player of the Week:
Stacey Smalls- Smalls had 14 points and seven assists in Temple’s loss to Xavier. Her four three pointers were a game high. She led the Owls in scoring against Dayton with 19 points.
Lisa Jakubowicz on the shooting of Taru Tuukkanen: “If you can be an all around player like that, you’re pretty much golden.”