UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (AP) — Perfect in the regular season. Perfect in the tournament, albeit with an overtime in the championship game. Xavier is the champion of the Atlantic 10.
Xavier scored the game's first 14 points, blew the lead in the second half and survived the extra period Monday in a 57-55 win over Temple, claiming the No. 5 Musketeers' third conference title in four years and an automatic NCAA bid.
Xavier's 18-game winning streak includes a 14-0 run through the conference regular season and 3-0 in the tournament, joining 2004-05 Temple as the only A-10 teams to make it through both without a blemish.
Conference player of the year and tournament MVP Amber Harris tied a season high with 23 points, and Ta'Shia Phillips had a season-high 21 rebounds for the Musketeers (27-3), who appear in line for a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Temple (24-8), meanwhile, is poised for an at-large berth. The Owls, seeded third in the A-10, lost for only the second time in 11 games. They were led by 18 points from Shaqwedia Wallace, 17 from Kristen McCarthy and 17 rebounds from Jasmine Stone.
If Xavier had one noticeable flaw over the three days, it was a knack for letting up with a big lead. The Musketeers had a 13-point lead cut to two by Richmond in the quarterfinals and blew an eight-point second-half lead before squeaking by with a two-point win over Charlotte in the semis. The lapses might cost the team when the NCAA pairings come out Monday.
After looking unbeatable with a 14-0 lead in the first six minutes against Temple, Xavier started settling for lazy shots and had the lead cut to six before settling down to take a 32-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Owls then came out relentless to the start of the second half, holding Xavier without a field goal for the first 5½ minutes and forcing seven turnovers in the first seven minutes. McCarthy polished off a fast break with a three-point play, and LaKeisha Eaddy pounded her chest after making a 3-pointer that tied the game at 33 with 14:36 to play.
Xavier called timeout, and Dee Dee Jernigan put the Musketeers back ahead with a 3-pointer. Xavier led 53-47 with 2:21 to go, but Wallace made a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a Musketeers turnover to tie the game with 1:21 remaining. Xavier had two chances to take the lead, but Marli Bennett had a shot blocked and McCarthy missed a short jumper under pressure as regulation expired.
Temple took its first lead of the game on Bennett's jumper with 3:52 left in overtime, but Special Jennings' 3-pointer put Xavier back in front. April Phillips' free throw made it 57-55 with 2:40 to play.
Then nerves and defense took over. Neither team scored again. Wallace had a shot blocked by Ta'Shia Phillips, but April Phillips rushed an ill-advised shot at the other end to give Temple one last chance. After calling timeout with 5.5 seconds to play, Temple got the ball to Wallace for a drive to the basket, but her shot bounced off the rim as time expired.