Temple and Villanova Ousted in Amrican and Big East Tourneys
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Temple here in the American Athletic Conference at the Mohegan Sun Arena and Villanova over in the Big East Tournament at the Al McGuire Center on the campus of Marquette in Milwaukee began Sunday hopeful of victories in their respective events that could get them at least one step closer to solidifying their postseason prospects.
After that it would be a case of anything you can get out of the next rounds, both of which would be tough.
Neither will find out, however, if one could pull a stunning upset here in the American title game or the other a surprising win the the Big East semifinals.
Revenge-minded opponents got in each’s way and now Temple will be waiting until next Monday night to see if a stronger resume than in the past will be good enough to land one of 32 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament while Villanova will be desirous of a return to the WNIT.
On the heels of a stellar win Friday night here in the quarterfinals, the second-seeded Owls here took the floor 24 hours later confident they might take the rubber match with third-seeded South Florida after a split in the regular season saw Temple make up for a poor shooting day against the Bulls at home in McGonigle Hall by beating USF two weeks later in Tampa.
That triumph earned Temple its first national rankings since 2006 and became the key in wrapping up the second seed behind top-ranked UConn heading into the tourney here.
At the same time South Florida dropped out of the polls and dropped to the third seed for here.
“It was an important game for both teams for NCAA seeding,” said USF coach Jose Fernandez, after his Bulls subdued the Owls to take a closely-fought 63-58 victory and head into the title game Monday night (7 p.m., ESPN2) against UConn for the third straight year.
"Us winning up there and them winning at our place. We wanted this game. That is the one thing, when you play in this tournament you want to play for a championship and you want to have that opportunity.”
He said that fully aware along with the entire conference that until the magic elixir is found, once at that game, it is basically a dead end to an automatic bid with UConn sitting on the other bench.
At the beginning of the season not much was expected of a UConn squad that lost its three top stars, who all went 1-2-3 in the WNBA draft, though there was a belief the Huskies could be national contenders by March after being nicked up along the way in rebuilding mode.
So instead, they enhanced themselves from the squad that won the previous four NCAA titles, and stepped into Monday night’s championship, beating UCF 78-56, to continue unbeaten on the season at 31-0 and extend their overall NCAA record consecutive win streak to 106.
The Huskies have yet to lose any game against an American Conference opponent, regular season or tourney – this is the fourth – since the league was carved out of the old Big East.
So usually one wants to do well and take the semifinal that Temple played in for the second straight year and then give as good a showing as might be expected with most of the nation and the NCAA tournament committee watching the contest on an ESPN TV property.
To that regard the Owls (24-7) started off decent enough the opening quarter but then the Bulls (24-7) caught them in the second and survived Temple hitting them with a scoring drought of over five minutes before mounting a 10-0 run in the fourth that carried USF just enough to play one more day.
Tamara Henshaw was a force for the winners in the first half on the way to an overall total of 15 points while Kitija Laksa had 18 and Maria Jespersen scored 14.
Temple’s Feyonda Fitzgerald, who set a tournament record with 30 points against Houston, scored 18, while Aliya Butts scored 17, and Tanaya Atkinson, who is from New Haven, an hour to the south, had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
No one pointed it out because of how well the Owls had played Friday but Temple did miss the presence of Donnaizha Fountain, a junior guard racking up double doubles who has been sidelined with a leg injury.
Temple coach Tonya Cardoza bemoaned the defensive lapse early in the fourth quarter that helped turn the game away from her squad.
“There were so many times we had two guys chasing after one and leaving someone wide open, so I just know the communication wasn’t there,” Cardoza explained. “We just weren’t paying attention, and it happened way too often, and because now they are able to get inside and now easy to get easy shots and dump-downs, but again, if we communicate, those guys are not wide open.”
Temple has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2011, though the next year the Owls were labelled the first out by the basketball committee.
Since then, they have performed admirably in the WNIT, but the NCAA is still the primary desire.
“We’re a little more confident here knowing we did our work, but this was one of those games that could take you to another level,” Cardoza said. “ different seed, possibly, depending what happens with other teams so that was one of the reasons I really wanted to get to the championship game for seeding purposes and this would have been an opportunity to be able to compete for a championship.
“But, yes, we’re pretty confident we should be selected. I’d be pretty disappointed if we weren’t.”
Meanwhile, in the first game, UConn had to deal with a feisty UCF squad that played with physicality on the way to getting to consecutive win number 106.
Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier each scored 16 points while Crystal Dangerfield, a freshman, scored 14, and Katie Lou Samuelson scored 12.
“It was a really physical game tonight,” said Williams. “We just tried not to get caught up in that and just try to play the way that we did.”
UCF (20-11) got 22 points from Zykira Lewis and 13 from Aliyah Gregory.
Though leading by a competitive 37-25 advantage at the half, a 10-2 run after the break increased the differential to 20 and it was time for the UConn fan base to start concentrating on other attractions on the way out the door such as the dining destinations that are on the nearby concourse.
“I thought the way we responded in the third quarter, the way we came out for the second half really was a lot of fun for me to see, because our players generally respond well to challenges,” UConn Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma said.
USF got destroyed when the Bulls played the Huskies the first time this season up the road in Hartford, a night in which UConn tied its previous NCAA consecutive win mark of 90.
But they played better a week ago hosting the Huskies in Tampa.
Laksa spoke of dealing with UConn from a player’s perspective.
“It’s Connecticut,” she said. “You can prepare but they always will surprise. I think that every chance we have playing them we can do it, we can make it a tough battle.
It’s the third game of the year playing them. It’s the third time, the third lucky one or how’s that saying, Third time’s the charm, exactly. That one. Thank you.”
Villanova Ousted by St. John’s
Like Saint Joseph’s over in the Atlantic 10, the Wildcats had fought their way to respectability in the Big East wars the last two months.
Unlike Hawks but more like Temple, coach Harry Perretta’s squad would likely have its hands full in a Monday night semifinal game playing No. 1 seed DePaul, ranked 18th in the country.
But in opening Sunday night in the Midwest against St. John’s in the quarterfinals, at least Villanova had an opponent it might get a third win out of and then try to look as best as possible to increase the interest of the WNIT folks.
That won’t be happening thanks to the Red Storm getting their share of revenge, ousting the Wildcats 56-40 to lower their record to 16-14.
“I think St. John’s defense showed up today,” said Villanova coach Harry Perretta. “In the first two games we played it did not show up. But when it does, it’s very difficult to score because they take away a lot of our perimeter shots.”
The two teams played to a 23-23 tie at the half after the Wildcats closed with an 8-2 run.
Then St. John’s (20-10) took off on a 13-2 run after the break and went on to a 44-29 advantage heading into the final quarter.
It got to 20 quickly after that and relegated the Wildcats to the postseason lobbyists club.
Villanova freshman Mary Gedaka had 12 points, while Alex Louin scored seven.
Aaliyah Lewis, about whom a feature in several posts below this was inserted earlier in the week into the blog, scored a career-high 27 points, dealt five assists, grabbed four rebounds and had four steals.
Akina Wellere also scored in double figures with 11 points.
“This has been an elephant in the room for about five games for us,” Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella said. “And Villanova has kind of beat us up a little bit in the last five.”
Meanwhile DePaul, which plays St. John’s 6:30 p.m. Monday night on FS2, advanced with an easy 82-60 win over Seton Hall.
The Blue Demons (25-6) swept the Red Storm as Villanova had.
Chante Stonewall had a season-high 20 points, and four others scored in double figures while Brooke Schulte scored all her 16 points in the first half.
Jayla Jones Pack had a career-high 13 points for eighth-seeded Seton Hall (12-19).
In the other two quarterfinal games, third-seeded Marquette beat sixth-seeded Georgetown 80-66 while second-seeded Creighton topped 10th-seeded Butler 64-55.
Creighton (23-6) and Marquette will meet at 3 p.m.
The Bluejays have won nine straight and 19 of their last 21.
Audrey Faber had 17 points and Jaylyn Agnew scored 16 for Creighton while Butler (6-25) got 11 from Taylor Buford, the lone player from the team in double digits.
In the Marquette game, Allazia Blockton had 20 points for the Golden Eagles (23-7) and Dionna White had 17 for the Hoyas (17-12).
The title game will be 9 p.m. Tuesday.