Temple's inside game might not be enough vs. Huskers
Editor's note: Nancy Lieberman is breaking down the best first-round game in each regional. Here, the ESPN analyst examines the Greensboro Regional's most intriguing matchup.
9 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN2)
The RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.
Don't expect a lot of brilliant play from beyond the arc when these two clash. Temple at one point ranked 318th in Division I in 3-point shooting and is currently hitting 33 percent from beyond the arc. Nebraska is no better from downtown, hitting about one-third of its attempts, too. The Cornhuskers also ranked 11th in the Big 12 in 3-point field-goal defense (36 percent).
Of course, Nebraska has hit 168 3-pointers, and leading scorer Kiera Hardy has 68 all by herself. That's just four fewer than all of Temple's makes from beyond the arc.
With numbers like that, it's no secret the Owls rely heavily on their inside game. Senior forward Kamesha Hairston (19.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and junior center Lady Comfort (12.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) combine for nearly 50 percent of Temple's 68 points per game. Hairston, one of two seniors who start, was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Comfort has incredible size and is very difficult to box out, which has helped her hit 53 percent of her field goals.
Temple's other starting senior, 5-foot-6 point guard Fatima Maddox, adds 11.6 points and almost three steals per game. Freshman guard LaKeisha Eaddy dishes a team-high 3.7 assists. Forward Shenita Landry, who rounds out the starting five, adds 6.0 ppg on 54 percent accuracy from the field.
Dawn Staley's Temple Owls win games by outworking their opponents. She's a big believer in the theory that rebounding can win games. The logic there is if you have the ball in your hands, that means you'll have more opportunities than your opponent. Sure enough, the Owls boast a plus-10 rebounding margin. They can rebound at every position on the court. Temple wants to run and push tempo. Everything goes through the middle.
Nebraska also has solid rebounders on the perimeter, and guard Hardy leads the way in scoring, too. Hardy is a tremendous shooter with a great all-around game who averages 15.8 points on 41 percent shooting. Despite the Huskers' 33 percent shooting on 3-pointers, Hardy hits 37 percent (68-for-185) of her treys. Kelsey Griffin ranks right behind Hardy with 15.1 ppg and is tops in rebounding at 8.4 boards per game.
Nebraska also is extremely deep; 10 Huskers average at least 11 minutes. They might not be a strong defensive team; they leave too many open looks and don't create a lot of turnovers. But their offense can be hard to keep up with. Nebraska had the Big 12's second-best shooting team with 44 percent accuracy from the field.
Who wins: Nebraska is limping into the NCAA Tournament, having lost five of its last six games after starting out right at the top of the Big 12 race. But I think the Huskers will win. Temple relies so heavily on its inside game that it is probably too one-dimensional. The Huskers are going to pack it in and play a sagging defense. And the fact that Temple is such a poor 3-point shooting team plays into Nebraska's favor. Look for the Huskers to use their depth to manufacture points. Unless Temple can establish its inside game and get 35-40 points from Hairston and Comfort or the Owls' guards shoot lights out, Nebraska should have the edge.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
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