VILLANOVA, PA – Temple University’s women’s basketball program is beginning to evolve.
In a Big 5 contest on Nov. 27 that felt more like a competitive five-set tennis match, the Owls defeated Villanova University, 68-62. On Nov. 30, they stunned Georgetown, 49-47.
First things first.
In an entertaining battle between the Owls and Wildcats, Villanova scored the first eight points of the game. Temple fought back to take a nine-point lead early in the third quarter. Nova rebounded to move ahead by six early in the fourth, but Temple chipped away to tie the game with 4:12 left in the fourth.
That’s where the Owls displayed the maturity that coach Tonya Cardoza has been looking for since the beginning of the season. Over the final 1:24 of regulation, the Owls outscored the host Wildcats, 8-2, and celebrated a 68-62 decision by excitedly racing to the bench for a unified embrace after the final buzzer.
“What a game,” said Cardoza. “That was really something. Coming in here, we knew it was important for us to really play well on the defensive side because of how they run their offense and how they can make us look bad on the defensive end. We did a really good job of staying focused.”
An obviously pleased Cardoza stressed the “focus” theme throughout the post-game press conference.
“We made some mistakes, but we didn’t get down on ourselves like we have in the past,” she said. “We let it go. We talked about that before the game. Not getting bothered by things that happened in the past but to stay in the moment; stay present.”
Despite being out-rebounded by 35-30 and out-assisted by 21-13, the Owls (3-3 overall; 1-0 Big 5) took advantage of Nova’s poor three-point shooting (5 for 20), too-quick shot selection, and 18 turnovers to stay close throughout.
Down the stretch, Temple’s overall balance (four players finished in double figures) and strong free-throw shooting (12 of 14 overall) provided the difference. Of Temple’s eight players, seven finished positive in plus-minus differential; of Nova’s eight players, six finished in the negative.
Temple’s third substitute, freshman Aniya Gourdine only missed one of her six shots and contributed 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists, and a steal. Over the final 14 seconds, she canned four free throws, drew a charge foul, and snatched a defensive rebound.
Senior Alexa Williamson tallied 16 points and two blocks. Sophomore Jasha Clinton scored 11 and offset seven of Temple’s 14 turnovers by dealing four assists and making four steals – tying graduate student teammate Jalynn Holmes in the theft department. Graduate student Mia Davis added 10 points dealt four assists.
“We had some guys who really stepped up,” said Cardoza. “We made shots today. That’s the big thing. Lex on the inside; Aniya knocking down shots from the perimeter . . . that fueled us and gave us the extra boost on the defensive side.
“Down the stretch, it got little crazy – up nine and then down six. In the past, we would have lost the game by 20, but we stayed in the moment and withstood that run and found a way to pull it out.”
Though she struggled on 3-for-13 shooting from three-point distance, Villanova sophomore Lior Garzon scored a game-high 22 for the Wildcats (2-3, 2-1). Graduate student Brianna Herlihy collected 14 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
Sophomore Bella Runyan was a force, shooting six-for-seven and finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and one block. Freshman Anahi-Lee Cauley came off the bench to seize seven boards.
“We knew we were in store for a battle,” said Villanova coach Denise Dillon. “We’re obviously disappointed with the loss. Temple stuck with their game plan and what they wanted to execute on the offensive end and defensively take us out of rhythm, and it worked to their favor for the duration of the game.
“It’s tough. We’re counting on it being another earning experience for our young group as we move forward.”
While Villanova had to wait until Dec. 1 to host Lehigh University (5-2), Temple visited Georgetown on Nov. 30. Appearing as though the win over Villanova was perhaps a fluke, the Owls overcame a 38-27 deficit by outscoring the Hoyas by 22-9 in the fourth quarter.
Davis scored 14 points and grabbed 11 boards. Playing like a veteran rather than a freshman, Gourdine dished eight points and seven rebounds, and gave the Owls its first lead at 48-47 on a driving layup with 24 seconds remaining.
Even better for the Owls, Caranda Perea supplied Cardoza with yet another option. After scoring only three points against Nova, the sophomore forward bounced back to score all of her nine points in the fourth quarter via a trio of three-pointers and added four assists and three steals in 23 pivotal minutes.
Temple remains on the road for a 1 PM meeting on Dec. 5 at Duquesne. Through Nov. 30, the Dukes sported a record of 3-4.
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)