Temple up for the challenge of playing at Kansas
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Khalif Wyatt was on a recruiting visit with a prime seat two rows behind Temple's bench.
He was planning to play for the Owls, anyway, but what he saw in that Dec. 13, 2008, game against No. 8 Tennessee only reaffirmed his decision.
"I watched Dionte Christmas go crazy,'' Wyatt said.
Christmas, a former Temple scoring star, had 35 points to help Temple upset the Volunteers 88-72. Owls fans stormed the Liacouras Center court in a wild celebration for what was coach Fran Dunphy's watershed victory of his first three seasons.
Wyatt so badly wanted to join the fun.
"I didn't storm the court,'' a smiling Wyatt said, "but I thought about it.''
Wyatt hasn't missed much else since Temple proved how formidable a program it can be against basketball's elite.
The Owls knocked off unbeaten No. 3 Villanova the following season, again allowing their students to stretch their legs in a mad dash toward the court. The following season was yet another home win against a top-10 team, this time No. 9 Georgetown.
Wyatt scored 22 points in a victory last season over No. 5 Duke at the Wells Fargo Center. And he dominated for a career-high 33 points last month in an 83-79 win over then-No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden.
In case you lost track, the `Cuse victory made it five straight seasons Temple has beaten a top-10 team while unranked.
"As a player, that's what you want,'' Wyatt said.
Wyatt, now a senior and Temple's leading scorer, is getting greedy and wants to do it one more time. The Owls (10-2) have their toughest test of the season Sunday when they play No. 6 Kansas (11-1) at Allen Fieldhouse. Not at home. Not at a neutral site. But before 16,300 "Rock Chalk'' chanting fans at the Phog.
"It's just another game to put Temple on the map,'' forward Scootie Randall said.
Few programs are as ingrained in the hoops landscape as the Owls.
Temple won its 1,800th game last month, becoming the sixth school to reach that milestone. The Owls have had only four coaches since 1953 and two of them - Harry Litwack and John Chaney - are in the Hall of Fame. They've made 30 NCAA tournaments, including the last five.
Not too shabby.
But not quite Kansas, which has a permanent spot in basketball's royal court, along with Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina. Those teams and Syracuse make up the rest of the 1,800 club. All of them have won a national championship - except Temple. The Owls' only two Final Fours came in 1956 and 1958. Chaney came so close, but went 0 for 5 in regional finals. Dunphy has yet to lead Temple out of the first weekend of the tournament.
The common thread among the six has been remarkable consistency and (except for Kentucky) coaching stability.
"I think we're different than most of the others,'' Dunphy said. "We're an inner-city university that has an unbelievable mission. I think we're as unique to that world as any other program ever.''
Chaney was as responsible as anyone for molding Temple into the program it is today. Yes, he was controversial. You bet he was outspoken. But he won. And he did it against a loaded non-conference schedule that was always among the toughest in the nation. Chaney and the Owls always had a place in the national basketball scene as long as they were playing the kind of teams in the hunt for deep runs in the NCAA tournament.
When Chaney retired, Dunphy kept the same scheduling approach. Duke was back on the schedule this season, along with Syracuse and Kansas. That's three top-10 teams in stand-alone games, not as part of some bracketed fields like at the Maui Invitational.
Kansas played at the Liacouras Center three years ago and returns to Philadelphia in the 2014-15 season.
The only way to start a streak of defeating top-10 teams is to schedule them.
"I would say, `Why not?''' Dunphy said. "It's a great chance for your players to test themselves at the highest possible level. I think that's what you want for your guys. You do it for recruiting reasons. You do it for the benefit of your fan base, but most of all, you do it for the benefit of your student-athlete.''
Temple AD Bill Bradshaw said before the season the scheduling might change with next year's move to the Big East. But that was before the seven Catholic schools decided to ditch the conference to form their own league. So there could be room yet for a Michigan or Arizona to fill the void.
"We love it,'' Randall said. "Sometimes you can't win and that's the bad part. But it's a great opportunity to go out there and showcase what you can do.''
No, they can't win them all. Randall, a fifth-year senior, remembers losing by 12 to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in 2008. The Jayhawks routed the Owls in Philadelphia in 2010. And Duke took out some frustration from last season's loss with a 23-point victory over the Owls in December.
Pay heed, Temple: Kansas has won 29 straight games at Allen Fieldhouse and 62 straight against non-conference teams on its home floor.
Still, Temple's knack of toppling top-10 opponents like Syracuse has put KU on notice.
"It was a great win for Temple on a neutral court and I think it does, and will, get our guys' attention,'' coach Bill Self said. "From a selfish standpoint, it gives us a better strength of schedule, which does nothing but help us later on down the road.''
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