MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- At Thursday’s workout on the campus of the University of Memphis, Temple fell short of perfection, but coach Fran Dunphy said he still liked the pulse of his team.
Third-seeded Temple had a first-round bye in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, which opened Thursday. The Owls will play the winner of No. 6 Wichita State and No. 11 ECU in a quarterfinal at 9 p.m. Friday at the FedEx Forum. The Wichita State-ECU game was scheduled to start at 10 p.m. Thursday.
“I think the mood is pretty good, to be honest with you,” Dunphy said after the two-hour workout. “Somebody asked how the focus was and I would say 81 percent of the time we were good and the other 19 we could do a better job on.”
So the Owls have something to strive for.
“We talk about that all the time: If we are focused we have a chance to be pretty good,” Dunphy said.
Temple won six of its final seven regular-season games, and most bracketologists have the Owls in the NCAA Tournament.
For the Owls, the key is playing with desperation, acting as if they aren’t in the NCAA Tournament, even if deep down they believe they are in. It likely isn’t a lock at this point.
After practice none of the players was talking about winning just one to ensure an NCAA berth.
“We didn’t win the regular season [conference title], but one of our goals is to win the conference tournament, so that is still in our minds. We have to go 3-0 to do that,” said first-team all-conference guard Shizz Alston.
For Temple, one of the keys will be the play of 6-foot-8 junior Quinton Rose, a second-team all-conference selection.
In the regular season finale, a 67-62 win Saturday over then-No. 25 Central Florida, Rose shook the Liacouras Center with a driving dunk on which he kept levitating before slamming with authority.
That dunk broke a 52-52 tie with 4 minutes, 13 seconds left, and Temple never trailed after that.
“Everybody was energized, the team, the crowd. That was huge,” Rose said of his jam. “I think it is big for me to get off to a good start. I can’t wait for something like that to happen. I have to bring energy from the start.”
The Owls have gotten a breather after two difficult, emotional games in a three-day span to end the regular season.
First, there was a 77-70 win at UConn last Thursday, followed by Saturday’s win over UCF.
“It was very big, we needed this week for rest,” said Rose,, who is averaging 16.5 points. “It was like a mental week. We worked hard in practice but got to focus on film and what other teams are doing.”
After a pause, he added, “We have three big ones coming up.”
Temple is in its sixth season in the AAC and the Owls are 3-5 in the conference tournament and have never reached the final.
This is Dunphy’s final AAC Tournament. He will be replaced by associate head coach Aaron McKie after the season. Like his players, Dunphy is thinking of an extended stay in Memphis.
“It’s fun to be in this environment and it is going to be a great three days for us,” Dunphy said. “… This is a crucial time for us and we need to put ourselves in a good spot and need to finish it out.”
If the Owls are here for three games, let alone win them, it would take away a lot of the angst during Selection Sunday.
Owls in the AAC Tournament
This is Temple’s sixth season in the AAC and the Owls are 3-5 in the conference tournament. Temple has never been to the conference final and has advanced to the semifinals twice.
Temple 82, Tulane 77
Wichita State 89, Temple 81
ECU 80, Temple 69
Temple 79, USF 62
UConn 77, Temple 62
Temple 80, Memphis 75
SMU 69, Temple 56