UNCASVILLE, CT. 3/4/2017 – A 10 – 0 run early in the fourth quarter gave the USF Bulls the space they needed to hold off a rally by the Temple Owls to earn a berth in the American Championship final against Connecticut for the third straight year.
“This was a tough one to swallow,” said Temple Coach Tonya Cardoza. “We couldn’t get any shots to fall down for us. We had a few defensive lapses. We so wanted to get to that championship game.”
Temple got to within 60 – 56 with a bit over 20 seconds to play on a three-pointer by Alliya Butts, who 17 in the game. Her two free throws got it to a three-point deficit, but it was too little too late. USF put the game away by making 10 of 14 free throws over the last three minutes.
The Temple game plan was to contain the USF guards. The offense for the Bulls ran through the inside play of Tamara Henshaw and Maria Jespersen who combined for 29 points in the game. Jespersen added a team-high 13 rebounds. Of the 15 points for Henshaw, 11 came in the first half.
“Henshaw scored a lot in the first half, but that was taking away possessions for their guards,” said Temple Coach Tonya Cardoza. “We did a good job of limiting their touches, so the option was to go inside. They had to find another option, and that’s the one they went with. She did a really good job.”
Kitija Laksa led USF with 18 points.
For the Owls Feyonda Fitzgerald contributed 18 points and added 6 assists. For the tournament Fitzgerald totaled 48 points while handing out 13 assists. The numbers did not matter to Fitzgerald, the team did.
“I am doing whatever I have to do to help my team win a game,” said Fitzgerald. “Whether it is diving on the floor, or playing defense, or scoring the ball, or finding an open teammate.”
Tanaya Atkinson recorded her 10th double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“She was concentrating, finishing, and rebounding the basketball,” Cardoza said of the play of Atkinson. “She has been doing this all year. These numbers are what she has been doing all season. She is going to do whatever the team needs her to do.”
USF goes to the final. Could this be their year?
“It’s Connecticut,” said Laksa. “You can prepare, but they always will surprise. We can make it a tough battle. It’s the third game of the year playing them. The third time is the lucky one?”
The Owls will play a waiting game for the selection committee. They have a good chance to be selected, still. But this game can have an effect on the seeding and site.
“This was one of those games that could take you to a different level,” Cardoza said. “A different seed possible depending upon what happens to different teams. That was a reason why we wanted to get to the championship game. I am sure we will be selected, but disappointed if we were not.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian