Owls make NCAA, but Duke looms

Thanks to losing the A-10 to Xavier, they needed an at-large bid. First up is Nebraska.

Temple coach Dawn Staley (left, standing), players Fatima Maddox (right) and Ashley Morris, and supporters celebrate after learning of the Owls' seeding at the Draught Horse on Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Story, D6.

As Temple held its collective breath last night wondering if it would be issued an at-large bid to the NCAA women's basketball tournament, TV made sure the Owls would not run short of oxygen.

Coach Dawn Staley's players saw their team's name flashed minutes into the tournament-selection TV show and responded with a long and loud cheer.

There was a reason Temple appeared so quickly.

The Owls (24-7) received an eighth seed in the Greensboro Regional and were placed in the same group as top-ranked Duke, the overall No. 1 seed.

Temple will open Sunday night about 9:30 in Raleigh, N.C., against No. 9 seed Nebraska (22-9) out of the Big Twelve Conference.

In the first game at 7 p.m., Duke (30-1), which finished first yesterday in the final Associated Press poll of the season, will meet No. 16 seed Holy Cross (15-17), a surprise winner of the Patriot League.

"I'm not thinking about any team other than Nebraska," Temple center Lady Comfort said.

Staley has familiarity with the locale of Sunday's games from her successful days as a player at Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference wars of the early 1990s.

This marks Temple's fourth straight NCAA appearance and five overall in Staley's seven years in charge of the program. But it's the first time her Owls had to wait for an at-large bid.

Temple's string of Atlantic Ten titles and automatic bids were stopped at three by conference tournament champion Xavier in Cincinnati.

"I'm just glad that we're in," Staley beamed. "It gives us an opportunity to play postseason, and I think it's a good time for us at Temple.

"To get an at-large bid for our program means we're moving in the right direction, although we like to take it out of the [NCAA] committee's hands so we won't be on pins and needles like we were today."

Staley said she had seen Nebraska play a bit against Iowa State recently on television.

Cornhuskers coach Connie Yori admitted she knew little about Temple.

"I do know that they play very good defense, are a very good rebounding team, and have some players with WNBA potential," Yori said last night.

"Oh, and I'm not going to get into a game of one-on-one with their coach," she said of Staley, a retired WNBA all-star.

Hawks in WNIT. St. Joseph's (19-13) will play in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, hosting Coppin State (24-7) on Thursday night.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.