Tulane women's basketall coach Lisa Stockton is glad her team is done with what she says was the most-difficult part of this season's schedule.
Sunday's home loss to South Florida was the third consecutive American Athletic Conference setback for the Green Wave (11-12, 3-7).
“I think it was the toughest stretch because we were away at UConn and at Houston,” Stockton said. “And, it's late in the season, and it was against teams that are really playing well.”
The combined conference record for first-place Connecticut (10-0), ranked No. 1 in the nation, along with Houston (7-3) and South Florida (8-2) is 25-5.
When Tulane tips off against Temple (10-12, 2-7) on Wednesday night at Fogelman Arena, it will begin a six-game stretch in which five of the teams are a combined 16-32 in conference play. Also in the mix is a rematch against UConn on Feb. 21.
After Temple, the Wave will play at Cincinnati (5-5) on Saturday, at Memphis (2-7) on Feb. 18, UConn, then at Wichita State (5-5) and SMU (2-8) at home.
“I definitely think that if we can play well, we have some winnable games ahead of us,” Stockton said. “But every team in this league can challenge you.”
After the loss to USF, guards Kolby Morgan and Kayla Manuirirangi said the goal is to beat last year's conference record. Tulane finished the regular season 18-12 but 7-9 on their way to a WNIT invitation.
Winning five of its last six would put the Wave at 16-12, 8-8 heading into the conference tournament March 3-6.
Although this season has been frought with inconsistency, Stockton said she believes her team can put together a late run.
“I believe we have one of the best players in the country (Morgan), and that helps you,” she said. “(Starting freshman forward) Sierra Cheatham is coming along, and I think Manu has been very consistent in the last few weeks as far as her floor play and putting the ball in the basket and all that.”
Holding onto hope
Of course, a late run could net the Wave a ninth consecutive postseason appearance, perhaps depending on what it does in the AAC tournament.
“We have to play our best basketball right now,” Stockton said “And, that would show a lot to have some adversity and come back and really be able to win some games down the stretch.”
Against South Florida, Tulane was without freshman backup point guard Kaila Anderson, who attended a family member's funeral.
She'll be needed against Temple, which plays aggressive defense, especially against guards. Last season, they all but took point guard Leslie Vorpahl out of the game by trapping her.
Like most Tulane opponents' game plans, Morgan likely will be the main object of Temple's defense. However, Anderson's speed may be able to make a difference. With her in the game, Tulane could use a three-guard attack with 3-point shooters Morgan and Manuirirangi on the Wings and Cheatham shooting corner 3s.
Since the AAC began four seasons ago, Temple has been one of the conference's second-tier teams, along with South Florida, behind Uconn. Last season, the Owls (24-8, 13-3) finished second.
However, this season began on an ominus note when senior guard Alliya Butts tore an ACL during practice in October. Butts, who holds the program record for 3-pointers, was selected second-team all-conference last season, same as Morgan.
The team is built around senior forward Tanaya Atkinson, who leads the AAC in rebounding (9.7) and is fourth in scoring (22.2). Morgan is second (24.2).