Owls hang tough, but not enough

Temple put up a fight in the second half before falling to the No. 1 Blue Devils.

Posted: March 21, 2007

RALEIGH, N.C. - Maybe. Possibly. Not to be.

That's the way it went for Temple in a 62-52 loss to No. 1 Duke last night in a second-round NCAA women's basketball tournament game at the RBC Center.

The Owls fell behind the Blue Devils by 9-2 and eventually by as many as 14 points in the first half.

Not to worry. Coach Dawn Staley's squad had rallied from similar deficits this season. They managed twice to pull within five points in the second half.

The second time made the score 51-46 with 9 minutes, 21 seconds to play after Lady Comfort hit a jump shot but missed an ensuing free throw that could have made things even closer.

But there is a reason that Duke is the top seed in this tournament. The Blue Devils flexed their muscles with a 9-0 run to put the game away.

Duke (32-1) will move on to the semifinals of the Greensboro Regional on Saturday against Rutgers, which bested Michigan State, 70-57, in East Lansing, Mich., last night.

Temple finished at 25-8 as seniors Kamesha Hairston and Fatima Maddox ended their college careers.

The Owls were not intimidated as they battled the Blue Devils, who held a slim 37-34 advantage in rebounds.

They even managed to stifle the normally powerful inside play of Duke's 6-foot-7 Alison Bales, who was dominated physically by Comfort.

"Their physical play was a factor for her tonight," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said of Bales. "They got into her head mentally and that affected her game physically. She will grow from this and adjust because she is a smart player."

Bales had four points and six rebounds and was benched for some of the contest.

But Temple was unable to connect with backbreaking plays similar to Wanisha Smith's three-pointer as time expired in the first-half, giving Duke a 37-26 lead.

Smith also hit a key shot in the second half to hold off the Owls.

Although Temple supporters could see last night's effort as a moral victory, Staley was left wanting more.

"I'm tired of losing games like this," Staley said. "It's exhausting. You can't continue to play OK and not get the win. I'm pretty tired of it.

"Yes, we're going to be in basketball games. We're going to be in basketball games with the No. 1 team in the country or we're going to be in basketball games with the No. 200 team in the country.

"We need to win. We need a big win. And that's when our program will certainly move forward in the direction that we want. I'm just really tired of coming up short all the time. We'll just have to bear down and get one."

Duke point guard Lindsey Harding tied Temple's Maddox for top scoring honors with 18 points.

"I felt I needed to shoot my way back into a rhythm," said Harding, a leading candidate for national player of the year.

Smith added 15 points for the Blue Devils and Carrem Gay had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Hairston finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds for Temple, and Comfort added 12 points and nine boards.

Goestenkors said Temple provided a test that might help the Blue Devils grab the elusive title. A year ago, Duke blew a 15-point lead to Atlantic Coast Conference rival Maryland and lost the NCAA championship in overtime.

"It was a great game for us to play," the Duke coach said. "We had to fight for everything; they didn't give us anything."

North Carolina State 78, Baylor 72 - Also in Raleigh, Khadijah Whittington scored 15 of her career-high 23 points after halftime, while Shayla Fields knocked down a key three-pointer in the final minute of overtime to lead the Wolfpack (25-9) past Baylor (26-8) in the second round of the Fresno Regional.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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