Youthful backcourt shows promise

Standout freshman guard Alliya Butts scans the defense in the Owls’ 80-79 win last Thursday against North Carolina State. | Donald Otto TTN
Standout freshman guard Alliya Butts scans the defense in the Owls’ 80-79 win last Thursday against North Carolina State. | Donald Otto TTN

It’s never decided who will run the women’s basketball team’s offense prior to game time.

On most nights for Temple’s young backcourt, made up of freshmen Alliya Butts and Tanaya Atkinson, in addition to sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald, the hottest shooter gets the nod.

“Whoever has the hot hand that’s how we determine it,” freshman Butts said, speaking of her team’s offense following the Owls’ most recent Women’s National Invitation Tournament win in the third round against Middle Tennessee State. “We just run plays and if you can take your person, you take your person.”

While senior guard Tyonna Williams took charge in the Owls’ Elite Eight win, scoring 23 points, she has deferred to the youngsters for the better part of the postseason.

The WNIT has been a place for Fitzgerald, Butts and Atkinson to showcase their talents against postseason competition following a 16-16 regular season.

“Our backcourt is playing very well in the tournament and it can help us going into next season,” Fitzgerald said. “It kind of boosts our confidence knowing what we’re capable of. It pushes us to work harder and try to get better, so we can compete better next year.”

Fitzgerald has posted double-digit scoring in each of the Owls’ games in the tournament. She most recently netted 15 points in the team’s 69-57 win against Middle Tennessee this past Sunday. However, it is the sophomore’s play down the stretch that has helped the Owls edge out close games.

Along with hitting the game-winner in the team’s overtime win against North Carolina State, she also hit eight straight free throws to seal Temple’s 61-56 victory against Penn.

The WNIT has been a place for Fitzgerald and the rest of the team’s young backcourt to refine their games heading into next season.

“This is a huge momentum-builder,” Butts said of the team’s WNIT run. “It lets you know that if we can win now, we can make it to the other tournament.”

She said her success late in games comes as a result of the backing from her coach.

“I just have to be confident when I have the ball in my hands,” Fitzgerald said. “[Cardoza] wants the ball in my hands, so I have to know she has confidence in me as well.”

Atkinson has shown signs of maturity in the team’s postseason run. Her field-goal percentage has increased from her 42 percent from the floor in the regular season to a 53 percent mark in the postseason.

In the win against NC State, the New Haven, Connecticut native poured in six points during a stretch of two minutes in the second half en route to a 17-point performance.

“I just get a feeling that I can’t be stopped when I play,” Atkinson said. “If I have that feeling, I let my teammates know to just give me the ball, and let me do what I have to do.”

Butts has also seen success during the tournament. Other than a 36-minute, 16-point performance against NC State, Butts has seen her playing time drop slightly in the rotation. Despite the decreased minutes, the freshman has still found ways to make an impact, particularly with her 3-point shooting.

Following a 0-for-2 performance from deep in Temple’s first WNIT game against Marist, the freshman has made 9 of her past 17 3-point attempts.

She had 16 points against North Carolina State and followed that by making 3 of her 4 deep balls in the team’s most recent win against Middle Tennessee.

 Butts said the added experience from the team’s WNIT run as beneficial to the chemistry between the young backcourt mates.

“It’s very fun playing with those guys,” Butts said. “Each game we play together, we’re getting to know each other. So, next year we’ll be even better.”

Owen McCue can be reached at or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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