As March 2015 comes to a close Temple University faithful didn’t appear surprised to see the men’s basketball team in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals as the top overall seed. Temple had been on Joe Lunardi’s last four in when the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament held its selection meeting.
Meanwhile, Temple’s women’s basketball team, which entered 2015 Selection Monday at 16-16, wasn’t necessarily predicted to contend for a postseason championship. The Owls were selected to participate in the 64-team Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Four teams remain in the 2015 WNIT: Michigan, UCLA, Temple and West Virginia. The Owls are scheduled to visit West Virginia in a WNIT semifinal on April 1 in Morgantown with a 7 p.m. ET tipoff; the Mountainers have a 24-6 edge in the all-time series (the teams haven’t met since 1995). Whoever wins the semifinal will face either UCLA or Michigan in the WNIT championship game on April 4 at a site to be determined with a 3 p.m. ET tipoff.
The Owls (20-16) enter the semifinals after victories at Marist (67-54 in the first round), at Penn (61-56 in the second round), vs. North Carolina State (80-79 in overtime during the round of 16) and at Middle Tennessee (69-57 in the quarterfinals). During the victory at Middle Tennessee, the Owls entered halftime with a 35-15 advantage before the host Blue Raiders started the second half on a 15-0 run to pull within five (35-30); however, Temple didn’t allow Middle Tennessee to trail by five points or fewer after that run.
West Virginia (21-14) earned its ticket to the WNIT semifinals after home victories against Buffalo (84-61 in the first round), Hampton (57-39 in the second round), Duquense (60-39 in the round of 16) and Villanova (75-70 in overtime during the quarterfinals). The Mountainers defeated Villanova in overtime by overcoming a four-point deficit in the final 30 seconds of regulation.
This marks Temple’s first appearance in a women’s basketball postseason semifinal; the Owls earned fifth place in the 1982 WNIT and are 9-5 all-time in the WNIT.
Alliya Butts leads the Owls with 12.4 points per game, 1.97 steals a contest (71 overall) and three-point field goals (69-196; 35.2 percent). Erica Covile records an average 8.4 rebounds (302 total) and 11.4 ppg. Tyonna Williams, the Owls’ lone senior, extended her Temple all-time record for three-pointers (168) with two treys against Middle Tennessee; Williams tallied a game-high 23 points in the quarterfinal win in Murfreesboro (Tennessee).
The Mountainers had been victorious in 18 of their 21 games in Morgantown this season. While West Virginia was 12-6 in its first 18 games (including 9-1 to start the season), the Mountainers have since compiled nine victories against eight defeats.
Bria Holmes leads the Mountainers in minutes (36.3 per game) and points (18.9 per game, 680 this season). Averee Fields pulls down 6.9 rebounds a contest but she commits 2.88 fouls (104 in 36 games). Temple must be careful of Lanay Montgomery because she’s 10th in NCAA Division 1 in blocks with 3.14 per contest (113 total).
The Owls and Mountainers are both vying for their first WNIT title. No school has captured both the NIT and WNIT titles during the same season. Temple hoped become the first school to win a postseason championship in both genders since Connecticut won both NCAA Division 1 basketball crowns in 2014; however, the men’s team lost, 60-57, to Miami (Florida) on March 31 in a NIT semifinal.