It wasn’t easy, and it took nearly all 40 minutes to take control of the game, but the women’s basketball team escaped with a gutsy win against Big 5 rival, La Salle.
The Owls, who are now 3-0 in the Big 5 and 10-0 in the Atlantic Ten Conference, and had to scratch and claw for every point in their 72-63 victory.
“We’re happy to be able to pull this victory out,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “This was a hard-fought game. La Salle definitely came in here with a great game plan and we just were able to make plays down the stretch to pull this game out.”
Temple opened the game on a 9-0 run and pushed the lead to 16-6 with under 11 minutes to play in the first half. The momentum was clearly on their side and the crowd, who came to support the “Pink Zone” for breast cancer awareness, was behind them.
The wheels fell off however as the Explorers’ star guard, senior Ashley Gale, led the team with a full court press that threw off the Owls rhythm and focus. La Salle forced the press on the Owls for the remainder of the half and eventually took the lead with two minutes and 30 seconds remaining. The clubs went into the half with the Owls down 30-31.
Gale and junior forward Kristen McCarthy went shot for shot with 11 points each. Both offenses shot under 40 percent from the field but the difference was in the rebound department. The Explorers dominated the category with 25 rebounds, compared to the Owls 18.
“They definitely were out rebounding us and out working us and that’s the last thing that you want, is a team to come out on your home floor and out play you in the first half,” Cardoza said.
After the break, La Salle employed the full court press with great effect once again and pushed their lead to as much as six early in the half. The high risk-high reward tactic ended up backfiring after Gale committed her fourth foul and was forced to sit for several minutes. The Owls were able to capitalize on her absence, which weakened La Salle’s full court press dramatically.
“That was a blessing for us, because we couldn’t stop her,” Cardoza said. “We definitely weren’t communicating on the defensive end. We allowed her to get wide-open shots. One of the reasons why we’ve been winning games is we haven’t allowed the team’s best player to score.”
Gale would go on to tie for the game high with 22 points, along with McCarthy, but her absence was all the Owls would need to retake the lead. A jumper by McCarthy shortly after Gale’s foul tied the game at 41-41 with 14 minutes, 40 seconds remaining, and the Owls took the lead for good a minute later on a layup by junior guard Shey Peddy.
Led by McCarthy’s 22 points the Owls were able to hold on to the lead even when Gale returned to the court. In all, Temple had four girls reach double figures. Peddy had another solid performance with 16 points and nine rebounds while sophomore forward Natasha Thames added her best game of the season with 15 points and 9 rebounds. Senior guard Qwedia Wallace provided 13 points as well.
Despite the high scoring output, it was still a tough day for the Owls. Temple was nearly silent from downtown, a strength all season, as they shot only two for 11 from three-point territory. The girls also committed 19 personal fouls which led to 14 points on free throws for the Explorers.
The difference-makers for the Owls turned out to be free throws and second-half rebounding. The Owls went to the line 21 times and made 17 of those while out-rebounding La Salle 26-14 in the second half.
The sound of the buzzer signaled the Owls 12th consecutive victory, but each win has been harder and harder, especially in Big 5 games.
“The thing is there’s a [Big 5] championship on the line,” Cardoza said. “We wanted to put ourselves in position that when we do go to [St. Joseph’s] that we are going there to try to win a championship.”
And the team is feeling the pressure to win as well. If Temple can win two more games in their A-10 schedule, they lock up a first round bye in the tournament. But the win streak is forcing the Owls to step their game up every single day.
“We have to know that we have a big target on our back and come to play because we’re going to get everyone’s best shot every night,” McCarthy said.
The Owls will look to continue their streak and fight off the pressure that continues to mount in their next game on Wednesday at George Washington, who is 2-7 in the A-10.
“Every victory now counts,” Cardoza said.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com.