Owls open conference tournament play Saturday

Temple, the No. 3 seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, will face Tulsa Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN3 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut in the tournament quarterfinals.

The Owls (19-10, 13-5 The American) are looking to secure their first bid for the NCAA Tournament since the 2010-11 season after a semifinal finish at the Women’s National Invitational Tournament in 2015.

Temple comes into the conference tournament with a Ratings Percentage Index of 66, which is third highest in The American.

The squad owns two wins against Top-25 RPI teams, South Florida and the University of Florida. The Owls also have a win against Villanova, No. 46 in the RPI. Coach Tonya Cardoza’s team is 3-5 against Top-50 RPI opponents.

Temple’s offense is led by sophomore guard Alliya Butts, a first-team all-conference selection, and junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald, who earned second-team honors.

Butts is averaging 15.5 points per game, which ranks fifth in The American, while Fitzgerald is averaging 13.2 points per game and is second in the conference, averaging 5.4 assists per game.

Fitzgerald has had 157 total assists this season, the fourth most by and Owls in a single season. The 5-foot-7 guard is eight assists away from totaling the second most assists in a season in program history.

Senior guard Erica Covile, who scored her 1000th point in a 78-64 victory against Houston on Feb. 29, has had eight double-doubles this season and has started every game for the Owls.

Temple has outscored its opponents by 6.7 point per game this season, which is second in The American. The Owls rank third in the American with 70.4 points per game.

With a victory on Saturday, the Owls will earn back-to-back 20 win seasons, and will face the winner of South Florida, No. 20 in the AP Top 25 Poll, and Southern Methodist on Sunday.

Mark McCormick can be reached at mark.mccormick@temple.edu or on Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.

Foley leaves for Lafayette

Kristen Foley has been named an assistant coach for the Lafayette College women’s basketball team.

Foley, the former Senior Associate Athletic Director who supervised women’s basketball, crew, rowing and women’s volleyball, is being sued — alongside the university and former track & field coach Eric Mobley — by former athlete, Ebony Moore for $10 million in damages on charges of harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.

Moore, competed as a discuss thrower for the women’s track and field team from 2009-2011. During her time with the Owls she claims she was subject to bullying, sexual harassment and neglect which led to a near suicide attempt. These issues were ignored by the administration when Moore brought them to Foley.

A 2014 investigation by The Temple News into the university’s men’s and women’s track & field teams found that Mobley, who coached men’s and women’s track & field until his resignation in June 2014, was accused of verbal abuse, intimidation and dereliction of his coaching duties.

The report also found that Foley was informed of student complaints on multiple occasions, but Mobley remained in his position until June 2014.

Before the allegations, Foley, who coached the women’s basketball team from 1995 to 2000, oversaw the track & field team. But on July 1, 2014, she was removed from the role and was replaced by Senior Associate Athletic Director Joe Giunta as the department’s track & field administrator.

Foley will coach at Lafayette alongside coach Theresa Grentz, who she played for at Rutgers University while leading the Lady Knights to consecutive NCAA Elite Eight appearances in 1986 and 1987.

Following her playing career, Foley was an assistant coach at Rutgers under Grentz for three years.

Owls make WNIT tournament

The women’s basketball team was included among the 64-team field selected for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, which was announced Monday night.

The team’s inclusion in the tournament marks the first time it will take part in postseason play since the 2011-12 season.

Temple needed to win five of its last six games of the regular season in order to guarantee itself a .500 record and become qualified for postseason play.

The Owls’ first-round loss in the American Athletic Conference tournament put some anxiety in the team as a win over the Pirates would have put them in a more favorable postseason situation.

Sitting at a 16-16 overall record, the team was unsure if it would receive an invite to the WNIT.

The last time the team reached postseason play was in Williams’ freshman year when it also played in the WNIT. The Owls, then in the Atlantic 10 conference, finished with a 23-10 record that season.

They advanced two rounds in the tournament with wins over Quinnipiac University and Harvard University before losing to Syracuse University.

Trio awarded season honors

Junior Erica Covile, freshman Alliya Butts and senior Tyonna Williams each earned American Athletic Conference regular-season awards, the conference announced Wednesday.

Covile and Butts, who was also selected to the All-Freshman team, were named to the All-Conference third team, while Williams was the recipient of The American’s Sportsmanship Award. Each of the conference’s 11 coaches voted on the awards.

During the regular season, Covile averaged 11 points per game and a team-high eight rebounds per game, both of which were career-highs for the junior forward. After starting 26 games last season, the Detroit, Michigan native was one of three Owls to start in all 31 regular-season games and one of two players to log 900-plus minutes. The junior also totaled nine double-doubles after recording none through her first two seasons in a Temple uniform.

Along with her third-team honor, Butts was one of two unanimous selections for the All-Freshman team. The Edgewater Park, New Jersey native averaged a team-high 12 points and totaled a team-high 62 steals.

The freshman guard, who started 19 games this season, started the season coming off the bench and did not enter the starting lineup until Dec. 28, 2014 against the University of Memphis. After joining the starting lineup, Butts scored in double figures 14 times, including 11 straight games from Jan. 11 to Feb. 17.

Williams, the Owls’ lone senior, appeared in 124 games, starting in 95, and averaged eight points per game en route to her Sportsmanship Award. She ranks second all-time on Temple’s career 3-point list with 159. The Fort Washington, Maryland native also ranks fifth all-time in school history in career assists with 371.

For the season, she averaged a career-high 10 pointers per game.

The Owls will enter the Connecticut-hosted American Athletic Conference tournament this weekend as the fourth seed, and will play fifth-seeded East Carolina Saturday at noon.

Butts earns conference honors

Freshman guard Alliya Butts made the American Athletic Conference Weekly Honor Roll Monday for her performances last week.

The Owls’ point guard started the week with a season-high 30 points in a win over Memphis. She followed that by dropping 19 points in a loss against Tulane on Saturday.

Despite some trouble shooting the basketball at times this week, Butts was able to consistently get to the free-throw line, as she scored 12 of her 49 points this week on foul shots. The Edgewater Park, New Jersey native also contributed on the defensive end, where she had three steals in both of the team’s games last week. She’s recorded a steal in seven straight games.

Butts also saw a jump in her playing time last week, as she logged at least 30 minutes in both contests, compared to the 23.6 minutes per game she’s averaging on the season.

-Owen McCue

Covile earns Player of the Week honor

Erica Covile was named American Conference Player of the Week on Monday. With the selection, the junior forward became the program’s first American Player of the Week during the team’s tenure in the two-year-old conference.

The Detroit native, who averaged 22.5 points and 14 rebounds per game in wins against Southern Methodist and Cincinnati, has helped lead the Owls to a 3-0 start in conference play.

Against SMU, Covile scored a career-high 24 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. She followed up that performance with 21 points and a career-high 15 rebounds to extend her double-double streak to four games in a win over Cincinnati.

For the season, Covile is averaging 10.1 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game. She also ranks second on the team with 20 steals.

The Owls (7-8) will return to action Monday at 7 p.m. when they take on Big 5 rival University of Pennsylvania at the Palestra.

Women’s basketball adds two recruits

Temple penned two recruits ahead of the season opener Friday, as Philadelphia local Deja Reynolds and Chyanna Canada from Binghamton, New York signed on for the 2015-16 season, the team announced Wednesday.

Reynolds, a 5-foot-9-inch guard for Imhotep Charter High School, averaged 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals per game as a junior last season, helping Imhotep to a 22-2 record and the Philadelphia Girls Public City Championship.

Reynolds also reached the 1,000-point mark for her career at Imhotep, and was named MVP in several recruiting showcases, the 2014 8-Eye Classic and the 2014 MLK Classic as a member of the Philly Triple Threat AAU team.

Canada, a 6-foot-2 forward from Nottingham High School, averaged a double-double in points and rebounds in her sophomore and junior years. She averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game last season, earning an All-Central New York Team selection.

Canada also earned an all-area selection last season, and three all-league selections.

Women’s basketball picked fourth in coaches poll

Temple is expected to finish fourth in the American Athletic Conference, based on a preseason coaches poll compiled at The American’s media day Thursday at the New York Athletic Club.

The Owls are tied for the fourth spot with Tulane, as both teams received 67 points in the poll.

Sophomore guard Feyonda Fitzgerald was also named as a preseason All-Conference selection by American coaches, after averaging 12.9 points and 3.9 assists per game in her freshman season.

UConn, which will be starting the 2014-15 season at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top-25 poll, is the favorite to win the conference, receiving 10 of 11 first-place votes in the poll.

East Carolina came in third with 72 points, and USF in second with 91 points.

Temple finished the 2013-14 campaign at 14-16, and lost to USF, 72-44, in the quarterfinals of the conference championship.

The Owls will open up their season with a Big 5 matchup Nov. 14 at home against La Salle.

Thames finds suitor in Finland club

Natasha Thames is heading overseas, it was announced Monday.

The recent Temple graduate signed with Finland’s Kotka Peli-Karhut, a team that ranked second in the SM-sarja last year, for the 2014-15 season.

Thames, a forward, averaged 10.3 points-per-game and a team-best 7.2 rebounds-per-game as a redshirt senior during a rough 2013-14 season for the Owls. She also shot 51.5 percent from field-goal range and 69 percent from the free-throw line, averaging 31.5 minutes on the court.

Her career numbers average 6.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 24.3 minutes-per-game, with a 47.7 percent field-goal percentage and a 56.8 percent free-throw percentage.

Thames led the team in blocks last season with 23, and set the Owls’ record for most games played with the team with 134, after starting all 30 games in her final year.

American announces women’s basketball format

It’s not as big of a change as the one the Owls faced a year ago with their move to a new conference, but the Owls’ second year in the American Athletic Conference will feature a few differences.

The American announced its scheduling model for the next two seasons, along with an 11-team conference championship bracket due to the additions of East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa Universities.

Each team will play an 18-game conference schedule, facing eight of ten opponents twice in home and home action, and another two once each. One of those single conference matchups in 2014-15 is guaranteed to be at home.

The complete schedule for the 2014-15 season won’t be released until August, but Temple will play every team in the conference twice with the exception of East Carolina and Tulsa. Temple will host East Carolina, so the Owls will have to go on the road to play Tulsa.

Temple, as well as the rest of the American teams, will have the same home and home opponents scheduled for the 2015-16 season, while the single-game opponents will switch sites, meaning Temple will travel to East Carolina and then play Tulsa at home after this upcoming season.

All 11 teams will play in the conference tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The tournament will be played March 6-9.

Games between the No. 9 and No. 8 seeds, the No. 10 and No. 7 seeds, and the No. 11 and No. 6 seeds will get things started on the sixth. The winners of each game will then play against the top three seeds, who get automatic byes into the quarterfinal round on Saturday. The No. 5 and No. 4 seeds will also face-off on Saturday.

Temple had a turbulent 2013-14 campaign, finishing 14-16 in the regular season, then bowing out with an early quarterfinal exit in the conference tournament via a 72-44 loss to the No. 3 seeded South Florida.

-Nick Tricome