Xavier locks up A-10's top seed with win over Temple

PHILADELPHIA -- There was no celebration and little fanfare.

Xavier wasn't interested in making a big deal of its historical win as the sixth-ranked Musketeers have bigger goals in mind.

Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips helped Xavier complete the first back-to-back undefeated seasons in Atlantic 10 history with a 73-66 win over Temple on Sunday that clinched the top seed in the conference tournament.

Harris had 26 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks while Phillips added 18 points and 15 rebounds.

"We just take it one day at a time," said Phillips, who had her 18th double-double of the season. "Check this off and focus on that next goal."

It was the third straight regular season conference title for the Musketeers, who returned four starters from last season's team that came within seconds of advancing to the Final Four.

"This is something really special," Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said. "But we're really trying to get better and stay focused and get ready for March. We're really looking beyond where we are today."

Indianapolis is where they want to be when the Final Four begins there April 3. It just happens to be the home of Harris, who delayed a chance to play in the WNBA to return to Xavier (25-2, 14-0) for a fifth year.

As they have been all season, Harris and Phillips were the difference.

"Their post players are so difficult to defend," Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. "We were trying to double and do things, but sometimes they were just too quick."

Shey Peddy scored 24 and Qwedia Wallace added 22 for Temple (22-7, 13-1), which saw its 15-game winning streak snapped. It was the school's longest since 2004-05 when the Owls won 25 straight.

Leading 52-51 with 10:48 left in the game, Xavier turned up its defense by holding Temple without a point for the next 7 minutes. Harris and Phillips combined for six of the Musketeers' eight points during that span. The Owls missed eight shots and had four turnovers during the drought.

"They're one of the better defensive teams in the country and when you have possession after possession that you don't score its a little deflating," Cardoza said. "Our guys continued to fight."

Marli Bennett's layup with 3:47 left finally ended the scoreless stretch, but it could only get Temple within 60-53.

The Musketeers extended their lead to 12 and the Owls closed to 69-64 with 20 seconds left. Wallace hit a 3-pointer that was the 155th of her career, breaking the school record.

"It's great, but I can't really reflect on it right now," Wallace said. "I'm sure I'll think about it later."

That was as close as they could get as Xavier hit its free throws down the stretch.

"This game would have been real special for us to get," Wallace said. "This was the moment for us."

Xavier has now won 43 of its last 44 regular season conference games with the lone loss coming at Temple on Feb. 25, 2009.

This was the second time in the past five seasons that the conference regular season championship came down to the final game with two unbeaten teams. Temple also lost that game, falling to George Washington in 2007.

Unlike last season when these two teams met with the Atlantic 10 tournament championship at stake, Temple got off to a quick start. Last year, the Owls found themselves down 14-0 before rallying and losing in overtime.

On Sunday, they scored the first eight points. After Xavier cut it to 8-5, Temple had the next seven capped by Peddy's one-handed fling to just beat the 30-second shot clock.

But that just seemed to wake up the Musketeers, who went on a 19-4 run over the next 8 minutes. A three-point play by Harris and consecutive 3-pointers by Katie Rutan closed the spurt, giving Xavier a 24-19 lead.

The Owls tied it at 24 before the Musketeers scored the next eight points.

Xavier led 32-24 with 2:59 left in the half before Wallace took over, scoring seven straight points to bring the Owls within 32-31. She started her personal run with a 3-pointer that tied the senior with Stacey Smalls for Temple's record of 154.

The Musketeers led 35-32 at the break.