Women’s basketball to play two top-25 teams in next 4 games

Temple will face two ranked teams in its next four games.

Senior guard Tanaya Atkinson (right) attempts a jump shot during the Owls’ 64-48 loss to the University of Mississippi on Nov. 25 at McGonigle Hall. | MIKE NGUYEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

To close its seven-game homestand, Temple will play two teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and two teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Temple, which received five top-25 votes in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll, has started the season with a 6-2 record after Saturday’s 86-64 victory against Harvard University at McGonigle Hall.

Against Harvard, the Owls made 10 3-pointers and shot 45.5 percent from behind the 3-point line.

“When you make those first couple of threes, it changes your mindset and not just for that one person, but for the next guy,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “That’s just how we are. We feed off of one another.”

After Saturday’s win against Harvard, four more games remain in Temple’s seven-game homestand. The Owls will face Hampton University, which reached the NCAA Tournament last season, on Thursday.

The two ranked teams the Owls will play are AP No. 25 Villanova and defending Division I champion University of South Carolina, which is ranked No. 5 and started the season with six wins in a row. Each team provides different challenges for the Owls.

When the Owls play Villanova on Dec. 10 in their third Big 5 game of the season, they’ll face one of the best defenses in Division I. Villanova has the 23rd-best scoring defense, allowing just 54.3 points per game.

The Wildcats’ stout defense starts in the middle. Both senior center Megan Quinn and sophomore forward Mary Gedaka are averaging more than a block per game, and the team is ninth in Division I with 6.3 blocks per game.

Because the Wildcats affect many of their opponents’ shots at the rim, they only allow teams to shoot 33.3 percent from the field, which ranks 24th in Division I. From behind the 3-point line, Villanova’s opponents shoot just 20.9 percent.

Temple will rely on senior guard Tanaya Atkinson to continue her hot start to the season. Atkinson’s 23.6 points per game leads the American Athletic Conference and ranks fifth in Division I.

“I’m just trying to play as hard as I can play, all the time,” Atkinson said. “I always tell the younger players, ‘You should never want a coach to come to you after the game and tell you that you didn’t play hard.’ So I’m just playing as hard as I can every time.”

After Atkinson, freshman forward Mia Davis and freshman guards Desiree Oliver and Emani Mayo are the next leading scorers.

But against St. Joseph’s on Nov. 29, junior guard Deja Reynolds broke out. She scored a career-high 12 points, including the free throws that sealed the game.

“I just wanted to be aggressive and bring my style of play to the game,” Reynolds said. “It was just like practice out there on the court, and I’m just gaining more confidence the more I get out on the floor.”

When the Owls play South Carolina 11 days after their matchup with Villanova, their defense will be tested. South Carolina has the 14th-best scoring offense in Division I at 85 points per game.

South Carolina’s leading scorer is senior forward A’ja Wilson, who ranks fourth in Division I with 23.8 points per game.

The Gamecocks’ second-leading scorer is redshirt-senior guard Lindsey Spann. She is a transfer from Penn State and is averaging 13.6 points per game.

Cardoza, who signed a contract extension that will keep her at Temple through the 2021-22 season, is confident in Mayo on the defensive end.

“Defensively, some of our young players are really growing,” Cardoza said. “Emani’s shooting percentage the last couple of games hasn’t been great, but I keep her on the floor because I trust her guarding just about anyone. She’s a smart kid, and she works her butt off and knows her assignments.”

Before the Owls’ matchups with Villanova and South Carolina, they are focused squarely on  Hampton, which is coming off a six-point loss to Quinnipiac University on Sunday.

“All we know is we’re playing next, we never look ahead of any opponent,” Cardoza said.

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