Riding a school-record 13-game winning streak going into Sunday’s game against Xavier, the women’s basketball team had found a variety of ways to win games. Against the Musketeers, the Owls dug deep and got one more.
In a matchup of the only remaining undefeated teams in the Atlantic Ten Conference, the Owls (17-3, 9-0) pulled out a thrilling 64-62 victory on a buzzer-beating layup by sophomore Kamesha Hairston.
“Sometimes you need to go through that,” coach Dawn Staley said of her team’s 40-minute struggle with the Musketeers (13-6, 7-1). “You need to see if you can dig deep and figure out a way to win a basketball game, and I thought our team did that on both ends.”
Junior forward Candice Dupree rejected a shot by Xavier guard Miranda Greene with the score locked at 62, and the Owls gained possession and called a timeout with four seconds remaining.
On the ensuing inbound, senior forward Ari Moore heaved a three-quarter court pass in the direction of Dupree. Dupree out-jumped Musketeer forward Tara Boothe, fought through a double team and hit a wide-open Hairston under the basket for the easy two.
“We actually did something that we don’t usually do in shootaround, which was work on the long pass,” Staley said. “Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t discussed in the timeout. I said to get the ball into [point guard Cynthia Jordan] and make it a short pass.
“But coming out of the timeout one of the coaches told Ari that if she couldn’t get it in, then throw it long. So it was kind of a miscommunication on the bench, but it worked out.”
Hairston, who scored a career-high 31 points, stole the show. The 6-foot forward shot a staggering 15-of-19 from the field. Her previous career high was 16 points.
With her teammates struggling to make shots and hold on to the ball in the early going, Hairston almost single-handedly kept the Owls in the game.
After missing her first shot, Hairston went on to hit her next eight attempts before halftime.
And she did it in virtually all fashions possible, scoring off the dribble, runners in the lane, and midrange jump shots. Her jumper from the right wing knotted the score, 62-62, on the Owls’ second-to-last possession.
“Yeah, I guess I was kind of feeling it a little bit,” Hairston said. “I don’t necessarily think that they were overlooking me. I felt like they were playing me, but I was just shooting it.”
After taking a 29-24 lead into halftime, the Owls came out flat to begin the second frame. The Musketeers gained momentum behind eight second-half offensive rebounds and six second-half Temple turnovers to grab a one-point lead with 13:00 remaining. The final 10 minutes saw eight lead changes.
Boothe, the leading scorer in the A-10, led a balanced Xavier attack with 18 points. Four Musketeer starters scored in double figures.
Xavier guard Kristy Wallner nearly put a dagger into the Owls’ win streak when she hit a layup and a foul shot with 32 seconds to play that gave the Musketeers a two-point lead. But at that point, Hairston’s heroics were yet to come.
With the win, the Owls further established themselves as the team to beat in the A-10. Over the past ten days they have knocked off three teams (Richmond, George Washington and Xavier) that were expected to contend for the conference crown.
The Owls also kept pace with Delaware and Gonzaga for the longest current win streak (14) in the nation.
“I think we still have to work on some things,” Staley said. “We have to get our young [players] going a little bit more going into the second half of the season. And I think we should be okay once the tournament gets here.”
The Owls’ next game isn’t until Sunday, when they travel to Duquesne. They have not lost since Dec. 4, when they were beaten by Florida in Gainesville.
Jonathan Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.