Christopher A. Vito
It looked grim.
Top-seeded Temple looked nothing like the regular-season Atlantic Ten East Division champs. Early in their quarterfinal matchup with Xavier it appeared they were going to be victims of the tournament’s first major upset.
Instead, coach Dawn Staley and her Owls erased a 20-point deficit, bouncing back to a 55-48 win over Xavier and advancing into Sunday’s semifinal contest against Richmond.
With six minutes remaining in the first half, the Owls had fallen behind 24-4, their largest deficit of the game. Xavier used a defensive set focused on stopping sophomore Candice Dupree to keep her from getting the ball inside. It was a defense Staley had never seen before.
Eventually the Owls went on a tear. Dupree was suddenly getting more touches and kicking the ball out when she was double-teamed. They hit right straight shots to finish the half.
It was at this point that Staley realized her team’s window of opportunity had opened.
“If we had been down by 20 with two minutes left, it would have been a miracle to come back from that but I knew we had a shot,” Staley said. “There aren’t any 20 point plays so we decided to take it one play at a time.”
The Owls opened up the second half still hot and finished off a 34-9 run to take the lead 38-33 with 12 minutes to play. They were playing with confidence on both ends of the court.
Temple’s defense as a whole stepped up its play, forcing eight Musketeer turnovers and blocking seven shots.
“We have had an up and down season,” Staley said, “But defensively we knew we had to take it up another level for us to be able to win the game.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Owls dominance continued. They outscored Xavier in the second half 34-18 and tallied 11 assists.
The Musketeers didn’t fold. A 10-0 run put them back on top.
The Owls’ resilience was contagious as Dupree and senior forward Tynecia Pam hit shots to regain the lead.
Dupree put the game out of reach for good by hitting four free throws in the final 90 seconds. Dupree had been cold at the charity stripe missing her first four attempts before dropping in the four that mattered most.
“I knew [my free throws] were important,” Dupree said. “I hadn’t been making them all game, but I just knocked them down because I knew I had to.”
Dupree had 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocks and senior guard Christena Hamilton had 15. They were the only two Owls to scorer in double figures.
Leading the way for the Musketeers was Adeola Olanrewaju with 12 points, while scoring-threat Tara Boothe was held to only 11.
Junior guard Cynthia Jordan added, “We took our hits and now we know our [faults.] We have to take it one game at a time and just keep our eye on the prize.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at DolphinsFan1085@aol.com.