Following the Temple women’s basketball team’s emotional win over Villanova last Saturday, Coach Dawn Staley proclaimed that her team was “back to playing Temple women’s basketball.”
The enjoyment of that victory lasted only three days as the Owls lost a close game to No. 25 South Carolina on Tuesday night, 68-65. They were ousted in nearly every statistical category.
On Sunday, the women’s basketball team will go to battle against No. 4 Vanderbilt at 2 p.m. in the Liacouras Center, in what should be the Owls’ toughest opposition this season.
The Owls will attempt to configure and contain the nation’s top front court, while at the same time trying to establish a solid post game after struggling against the Gamecocks.
Center Chantelle Anderson and forward Zuzi Klimesova will lead Vanderbilt. Both work the glass and the post. The Owls will more than likely go with their usual front court of Athena Christoforakis, who leads the team with 18.0 points and 10.3 boards a game.
This will be the biggest challenge for the senior forward who cannot be successful without help on the boards from Lisa Jakubowicz. Jakubowicz has been streaky so far this season, getting into early foul trouble and has not been a strong presence down low.
Junior point guard Stacey Smalls will be handed the assignment of guarding either guard Jillian Danker, who stands at 6-foot-1-inch, or guard Asley McElhiney, both of whom averaged double figures last season.
While Smalls continues to find a groove with her jump shots, she has provided stellar defense during the Owls’ two wins at home by mirroring her opponents the length of the court.
“The main thing for us is just to keep it up on defense, obviously we weren’t hitting shots,” said Smalls, who, along with her teammates, proved that a solid defensive game can win games despite shooting a lowly 22.6 percent from the field.
The team will have to use their offensive possessions sparingly against a team that yields few points. The Owls will have to learn to control the clock if they are going to be able to get an early jump on Vanderbilt.
Defense will be the Owls game plan, as it will be for the rest of the season. Emotions have been flowing the past week with two Big 5 games and two games against nationally ranked squads. Slowing down the Commodores front line on the transition will be important for the Owls. The rest of the team will have to be ready for action as Vanderbilt has a deep bench.
“Relentless, that’s what the coach told us to be,” said Smalls after pulling out a tough win over Big 5 rival Villanova. “You got to be relentless on defense.”
Relentless defensive play will get a win against Villanova and Penn, but the Owls will have to be flawless on defense if they intend on keeping it close against Vanderbilt.
Chris Silva can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org