Temple, Tech going in opposite directions

Perennial power Louisiana Tech lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2002.

It could happen again Sunday for the second time in four years.

Louisiana Tech, one of only two teams (Tennessee is the other) to reach every NCAA field since the tournament was first held in 1982, has suffered only three first-round losses through the years. But the 11th-seeded Lady Techsters could be in trouble when they face sixth-seeded Temple on Sunday (ESPN2/ESPNU, noon ET).

Yes, considering their seeds, that might not be a surprise. But Tech traditionally hangs around quite a bit longer. The Lady Techsters are a 10-time Final Four participant and won the NCAA title in 1988. And only Connecticut, Tennessee and Georgia have had more former players in the WNBA the past few years.

This season, however, Temple has been a lot more dominant. And the Owls are clearly one of the hottest teams entering the NCAA Tournament. Temple rides a 24-game winning streak (the nation's longest) into the Big Dance and hasn't lost since Dec. 4 (Florida).

In addition to having a great, young, savvy coach leading the way in Dawn Staley, Temple is also very athletic and scores a lot of points because of its physical prowess. Candice Dupree, the Atlantic-10 player of the year, averages nearly a double-double. The 6-foot-2 junior gets on the glass, particularly on the offensive end, and is a good drop-step scorer.

But don't underestimate senior guard Cynthia Jordan, the one who really makes Temple go. She's very versatile in how she gets the ball to her teammates.

Still, the most impressive thing about Temple is how quickly Staley has turned this program into a top 10 team. She is recreating the mold in how to build programs and has amassed a 101-50 record (.670 winning percentage) in just five seasons. Her team this season isn't very deep, but the Owls get after you. This season, she went out and scheduled some very tough opponents, scoring a huge win over Rutgers, just a four-point loss at Tennessee and also a 14-point defeat to LSU.

La. Tech also lost to Tennessee this season, 70-59 in Ruston, La. But it also suffered uncharacteristic losses to Illinois (six points in overtime), Mississippi State (17 points) and Oklahoma (27) in about a three-week span in December. One could almost say La. Tech is limping into the tournament after first needing double-overtime to reach the Western Athletic Conference championship game and then falling to Rice (24-8) in the league's title game.

Like La. Tech teams of the past, the Lady Techsters live and die by transition and pushing tempo. But you must also be able to defend and play solid half-court defense, and that has been inconsistent.

The biggest difference, perhaps, is that they just aren't playing with the sort of confidence the Lady Techsters -- All-Americans such as Cheryl Ford, Betty Lennox and Tamicha Jackson -- typically exude. That's not to say they don't have talent. Tasha Crain was just named a regional Kodak All-American. But La. Tech (20-9), which hasn't lost this many games since a 20-10 mark in 1991-92 and enters the Dance as an at-large for the first time since 1995, also seems to have lost its swagger.

So why tune in? You'll get the chance to see one of the game's brightest young coaches and a Temple team -- our pick to win, by the way -- that deserves more national recognition that it receives. And maybe Louisiana Tech will turn the tables and put together a extended stay in the NCAA Tournament. History and tradition, after all, do count for something.