MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The University of Memphis women's basketball squad tied an NCAA record and also won the battle Thursday.
It took an NCAA Division I women's basketball record-tying five overtimes and a heroic, career-high effort from Brianna Wright to lift the Tigers to an amazing, thrilling – whatever positive adjective one can use – 100-97 five-overtime victory over Temple before a crowd of 1,521 at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse.
In Thursday's five-overtime contest, there were 22 ties and 17 lead changes. The five-overtime game tied the NCAA Division I women's basketball record for the longest contest in terms of overtimes. The last time an NCAA Division I women's basketball game went to five overtimes was in the 2006-07 campaign. That season, Drexel and Northeastern played a five-overtime game on Feb. 22, 2007.
"The history that was made tonight I didn't know until after the game," said Tigers head coach Melissa McFerin. "There was a lot of will to win tonight on both sides. Temple had a will to win, as did we.
"The crowd tonight was awesome. They stayed in the game. I got to believe they saw our kids working hard on the court, and they weren't going to leave because of the team's effort. That is a testament to both our kids and our fans."
The win improves Memphis' record to 16-10 overall and 10-5 in the American Athletic Conference. With the victory, the Tigers remained fourth place in the league's standing and moved to within a game of third place held by Temple. In the coaches' preseason poll, Memphis was picked seventh.
The victory was Memphis' fourth-in-a-row. The Tigers have won seven of their last eight games, with the lone setback at top-ranked Connecticut Jan. 30.
The loss dropped the Owls to third place in The American standings with an 11-4 league mark. Temple has a 17-9 overall record. The Owls have won six of their last eight.
Wright, a senior, shattered her previous career scoring high with 35 points in Thursday night's win. She also grabbed 10 boards for her 12th career double-double. Mooriah Rowser added 21 points and three rebounds, three assists and three steals, while Loysha Morris had 10 points and career highs for both assists (6) and steals (5). Cheyenne Creighton scored 10 points.
Feyonda Fitzgerald led three Owls in double figures with 26 points. Donnaizha Fountain (17 points-11 rebounds) and Tanaya Atkinson (15 points-20 rebounds) both recorded double-doubles.
In the fifth and final overtime, Fitzgerald put the Owls ahead first at 95-93 on a layup at the 4:29 mark. The game then became all Wright's. The 6-foot-1 forward scored five of Memphis' seven points in the session. Wright tied the game at 95-all with 2:06 left, and a minute later, hit a free throw to give the Tigers a 96-95 lead.
After a Brea Elmore free throw put Memphis up 97-95 with :28 on the clock, Fitzgerald locked up the game again at 97-all with :17 left. The Tigers went to Wright one more time, and she delivered with a layup at the :06 mark for a 99-97 lead.
The Owls called timeout to advance the ball to the frontcourt, and after Temple inbounded the ball, Elmore stripped the ball from Fitzgerald and was fouled with :01.4 left. Elmore hit the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but the Owls did not get a shot off as the clock expired.
"I'm really proud of our kids," said McFerrin. "There were plenty of times for us to give up for numerous reasons, but our kids did not give in. We made mistakes and played ugly at times, but our kids delivered. What a great night for the Tigers!"
Things did not look promising for the Tigers as the game headed into overtime. Senior Ariel Hearn, Memphis' leading scorer, fouled out in regulation and three other starters – Asianna Fuqua-Bey, Morris and Rowser – all had three fouls. Fuqua-Bey fouled out at the 1:27 mark of the second overtime, leaving Memphis only three of its original starters for the final three extra sessions.
The third overtime looked as if the Owls would wrap up the win. Temple used a 10-3 run to open the third overtime to take an 80-73 advantage with only 2:15 remaining. But, the Tigers did not give up or give in.
Wright hit two free throws with 1:56 left to slice the Owls' lead to 80-75. Elmore netted the game's next five points (three-pointer, layup) to tie the game at 80-all with :46 on the clock. A Fountain layup gave Temple the lead again at 82-80 with :35 left. Wright, though, had the Tigers' answer – a game-tying layup with :21 left to send the contest to a fourth overtime.
In the fourth overtime, Temple again took a lead at 89-84 with only 2:14 left. And, again, Memphis responded. Wright's jumper cut the Owls' advantage to 89-86 at the 2:08 mark, and Rowser followed with a trey to knot the contest at 89-all. With :09 left, Wright hit two free throws to give Memphis a 93-91 lead, but Atkinson hit a layup with :04 remaining to tie the contest and send it to the game-deciding fifth overtime.
Memphis doubled its offensive output in the overtime sessions (50 points), and Temple nearly did as well (47). The regulation portion of the game ended in a 50-all tie.
The Tigers were down by as many as nine points in the second half. Temple held a 45-36 lead with 2:17 left in the third quarter and was ahead 45-39 heading into the final period.
Memphis opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to take a 46-45 advantage. It was the Tigers' first lead since the 1:37 mark of the second period. Memphis had a 50-47 advantage with 2:43 left in regulation, but could not hold it. Temple netted the final three points of the fourth quarter to send the game into the first extra session.
The Tigers shot 42 percent from the field and held Temple to 37.2 percent from the floor. Both squads shot under 70 percent from the free throw line, with Memphis at 59.5 percent and the Owls at 66.7 percent. Temple held a 63-59 rebound edge.