The last time either both Temple and Dawn Staley played in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament the year was 1989 and Staley was a freshman star at the University of Virginia.
Staley will make a triumphant return to the Commonwealth of Virginia Thursday to coach her first post-season tournament in her first season at Temple.
Unfortunately for Staley and the Owls, it isn’t the NCAA tournament that has supplied her trip back to Virginia. Temple will face James Madison in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
The Owls lost to George Washington 74-59 on March 4 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic-10 tournament at the Liacouras Center. The loss dropped Temple to 19-10 on the season and prevented them from a possible NCAA tournament bid.
George Washington advanced to the championship where they were crushed by Xavier, 81-56. Both George Washington and Xavier earned bids to the NCAA tournament.
For Temple, a team that went 10-18 last year, a spot in the WNIT is more than anyone could have asked for at the onset of the season.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Staley said. “We’re able to play another game while a lot of teams are on spring break.
“When we started the season we were like 200th in the nation. We thought that playing N.C. State and Vanderbilt would helps us when they were in the committee room.”
Temple finished the season with an RPI of 80 and a strength-of-schedule ranking of about 100. Even with the hard-fought battles against the Wolfpack and Commodores, Temple’s 19 wins weren’t enough for their first NCAA bid since 1989.
But the WNIT was interested and the players will take it.
“It was a little disappointing but we’re definitely happy that we made something,” said senior guard Natalia Isaac. “Luckily, we had the WNIT and we’re going to go in it to win it.
“It’s kinda weird though just being in the post season. Right around now I’m (usually) taking my two weeks off before the off-season.”
Thursday’s game will be something of a homecoming for Isaac as well as Staley. Isaac is from Falls Church, Va., which is about two hours outside of Harrisonburg, where James Madison is located.
Then again, Isaac recalls, Philly is the same distance away.
But Harrisonburg is only an hour from Staley’s old college digs in Charlottesville.
“It’s close but it’s not Charlottesville,” she said. “I think they’d be a lot kinder in Charlottesville.”
If Temple wins, the Owls will face either George Mason or Georgetown in the second round of the tournament this weekend.
A game against George Mason sounds good to Isaac. The Patriots’ Fairfax campus is only 20 minutes from Falls Church.
But first Temple has to focus on James Madison.
“They’re a hard-nosed basketball team just like us,” Staley said. “I think it’s going to be a war.”