For NCAA tourney, Temple, Penn State renew rivalry

Temple forward Anthony Lee shoots during a basketball practice Wednesday, March 16, 2011, in Tucson, Ariz., as Temple is scheduled to face Penn State in a West Regional NCAA college basketball tournament second round game on Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt York)

March 17, 2011 7:11:21 AM PDT
Temple and Penn State are separated by 200 miles of Pennsylvania countryside, close enough that that they have met in basketball 91 times, not counting a scrimmage last October.

Yet they had to travel across the continent to the far southwest corner of the country for Thursday's encounter in the West Region, a game that features in-your-face defense from both teams as the seventh-seeded Temple Owls (25-7) seek to end coach Fran Dunphy's NCAA record 11-game losing streak.

Penn State (19-14), led by the school's career scoring leader, Talor Battle, won seven of its last 10 games, including a victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, to earn a No. 10 seed in its first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. The only losses in that span were two to No. 1 Ohio State and one to Wisconsin.

Most of Dunphy's NCAA woes came at Penn, and his perennial Ivy League champions were always an extremely low seed and vastly outmanned. But the last three losses have come since Dunphy replaced John Chaney at Temple, and this Owls team looks to be one equipped for an NCAA victory.

"I certainly hope so," Dunphy said Wednesday. "That would be great. We've had a good year. And we've had a resilient year. Guys have stepped up and did some things that you would hope your bench players would do. ... I hope that we're going to be as good as we can be tomorrow morning."

The Owls should get some help with the return of guard Scootie Randall, out the last seven games with an injured right foot. Voted the Atlantic 10's most improved player, Randall averages 11.6 points and 5.5 rebounds, including a career-high 28 against Xavier earlier this season.

"These guys have been playing great without me," he said, "but I think I can contribute and really help my team out if I can play."

Dunphy sounded optimistic about Randall's return.

"Last couple of days, he's looked good," the coach said. "He was pain free on Monday and Tuesday, so we're hopeful he can give us some minutes tomorrow. I think then the question becomes how soon will he help us and how long will he help us."

Long overshadowed by Joe Paterno's football program, men's basketball at Penn State has ranged from awful to average. It has taken coach Ed DeChellis eight seasons to get this senior-dominated team to this level.

"We took a program over that really needed to be rebuilt," he said. "Every time we thought we got there it was something devastating that happened to us. I thought two years ago we were really talented and had a chance and ended up winning the NIT championship, which was a tremendous run."

The Nittany Lions appeared to be on the outside looking in again after an 82-61 embarrassment at home against Ohio State left them 15-13.

"We weren't on no bubbles, the last four in, we weren't even close," Battle said. "But we continued to fight. We stayed the course, and look where we are now with the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament."

Penn State followed the Ohio State loss with a win at Minnesota in the regular season finale, then beat Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. In the quarterfinals, the Nittany Lions upset then-No. 13 Wisconsin 36-33, the lowest-scoring game in the tourney's history and Penn State's first win over a ranked team in 10 years. A victory over Michigan State sent Penn State into the Big Ten tournament title game, where the Lions lost 71-60.

Battle, at 20.1 points per game, is the Big Ten's second-leading scorer, behind only Purdue's JuJuan Johnson (20.5).

The defensive game plan, Temple's Ramone Moore said, is "stop Battle and go from there."

Penn State's opponents have averaged 62.4 points per game, Temple's 62.2. Temple is more disruptive, with 6.9 steals per game to Penn State's 4.5. The Owls have held opponents to 41.1 percent shooting, Penn State 43.8.

It may not be another 36-33 encounter, but defense should dominate.

"Well, last year, the '09-10 season, we played each other and I think it was a 45-42 slugfest at our place," Dunphy said. "So I think we both are similar defensively. Both make our money on man-to-man. I think we both do a good job of helping one another, and I think we pay attention to that detail. And we're probably not the fastest offensive teams in shooting quickly.

"That being said, this thing could be a high-scoring affair."

Don't count on it.