Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Maligned Owls still leave opponents wary

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Temple basketball is the Atlantic 10's hallmark program, renowned for its tireless work ethic. Proof that the Owls hardly rest is in John Chaney's eyes, with bags so heavy they must be checked as luggage.

        But those eyes have stared daggers all winter, as the 70-year-old, Hall of Fame coach says he has been angrier with this team than with any in his two-decade tenure. The Owls (11-13, 8-4 Atlantic 10), who play host tonight to a Xavier team (19-4, 11-1) ranked 24th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, have been a defensive disappointment.

        A group he called “gutless” a week ago still will rank as one of the favorites in the A-10 Tournament. Having won five of its last six games, Temple appears to be readying for another late-season surge.

        “I think the (A-10) team that could impact the NCAA Tournament the most is Temple,” Fordham coach Bob Hill said. “They have a terrific senior class. They're tournament-tested. They're a very dangerous group.”

        Temple has made 12 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 17 of the past 18, and Chaney often engineers teams to peak late. Three seasons ago, the Owls started 6-6 but ended up in the Elite Eight. Last year, they rallied from a 14-12 mark to reach the same stage.

        Temple is 131-47 (73.6 percent) in February since Chaney took over in 1982-83.

        “They're a good team, no matter what their record is,” XU junior center David West said. “It's typical of a Temple team that they're turning things around.”

        Temple was ranked 17th in the preseason. Five players who started 20 or more games last season were back, four of them seniors.

        Yet four members of that projected starting five — Kevin Lyde, David Hawkins, Alex Wesby and Ron Rollerson — collectively have missed 20 games. Those four, plus senior star Lynn Greer (22.4 ppg), didn't play together this season until Feb.9.

        “I've never experienced what I've went through this year, and that has nothing to do with winning and losing — it has to do with the players on the floor,” Chaney said. “You're under .500, you get close, and then up jumps the devil — someone gets hurt. Getting all five back, now I have a chance to win games.”

        If, he says, the Owls can correct a more maddening matter.

        A team that led the league in scoring defense seven of the past eight seasons and led in field goal percentage defense the past six seasons ranks fifth (66.8 ppg) and fourth (40.8 percent), respectively, in those categories.

        It ranks eighth in 3-point percentage defense (36.2 percent), seventh in rebounding margin (minus-0.8) and ninth in blocks (3.1 avg.).

        “We're not a very smart team,” Chaney said after losing Wednesday at LaSalle. “We've not learned how to win games from defensive stops. Not one time has anybody stepped up to take a charge. That, to me, is a gutless team.”

        Facing Temple's zone defense still will require XU to be patient. Last year, then-senior Maurice McAfee carved up the zone with a career-high 12 assists in an XU victory.

        Most teams shoot a lot more 3-pointers against Temple than they do otherwise. Last year, West got just six shots against the Owls.

        “We'll still get the ball to Dave and do what we do best,” XU point guard Lionel Chalmers said. “We're not going to go shooting 50 3s just because they're playing zone.”

        SATO HONORED: XU sophomore Romain Sato has been named Sports Illustrated national player of the week. He averaged 28 points, nine rebounds and four assists in two victories last week.


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