|“I think this is just the jitters of the first game. We had a pretty good crowd, the season is off.|
Dawn Staley, Head Coach
A crowd of 1,426 was on hand at McGonigle Hall on Friday night to watch the women’s basketball team open their highly-anticipated season with a loss to the University of Evansville 76-70 in the first round of the Preseason WNIT.
Although the team played aggressively for most of the game, the offense got off to a poor start from the tip.
“I think this is just the jitters of the first game,” Coach Dawn Staley said of her team’s performance. “We had a pretty good crowd, the season is off.
“We rushed some shots. We didn’t let the game settle down to us. I thought we were a little bit impatient throughout the basketball game … but at times, when we were patient, we got good shots.”
Temple rushed shots early on. The team shot 25 percent from the floor in the first half. The Owls were down by nine less than five minutes into the game. Their first bucket came at the 15:31 mark on a steal and layup by senior forward Athena Christoforakis.
Christoforakis had a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. She took over the game late in the second half, following senior center Lisa Jakubowicz’s free-throw to tie the game at 33 to start the half.
“Athena is getting it now,” Staley said. “She’s taking a picture map of the game and she’s seeing where she can exploit some of the opportunities and weaknesses.”
Two possessions later, Christoforakis was fouled while attacking the Purple Ace’s zone and knocked down both free-throws to give Temple their first lead of the game.
There was a lot of whistle-tooting throughout the game as both teams were in the bonus early in both halves. The Owls shot 69.7 percent from the foul line hitting 22-of-33 attempts. The Purple Ace’s connected on 32-of-40 attempts.
Both teams were trading baskets for most of the game. Whenever Temple seemed to gain momentum Evansville would answer with a score or the Owls would commit a petty foul.
The Owls had 29 personal fouls compared to Evansville’s 25. Senior guard Natalia Isaac fouled out with 7:31 left in the game and her team down 60-50. Isaac finished the game with 10 points and four turnovers.
Junior point guard Stacey Smalls had a gutsy performance and finished with 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting from the floor and 1-for-4 from behind the arc.
After Smalls hit consecutive three-pointers late in the first half to trim the Purple Aces’ lead to 29-24, senior forward Lissa Eagles committed a foul to give Evansville a three-point play. Then Smalls turned the ball over with a fifth traveling violation.
The Owls were able to head into the half only trailing 33-30 after four free-throws from Toni Belafonte.
The Purple Aces were led by senior center Shyla McKibbon-Puelston, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
Senior point guard Latasha Austin, who is only two inches taller than Smalls, wove her way through the Temple defense en route to shooting 14-for-17 from the line and a game high 25 points, six assists and five steals.
Christoforakis received little help down in the paint on the defensive end, with the exceptions of junior forward Chrissy Cruz who had five boards and Christena Hamilton with four.
Freshman forward Ari Moore was the lone representative of the freshman crop who received playing time and contributed with four points, one block and one steal in a typical freshman first-time performance that showed she is still adjusting to the college game.
The Owls play at Kentucky on Friday.