Coach Tonya Cardoza said something rather interesting following the Owls game against La Salle on Sunday.
“I know that I have those guys that are going to compete no matter what the situation is,” Cardoza said. “You know they’re going to work extremely hard.”
Now there’s some context I need to add to this. Temple (8–11, 1–3 Atlantic 10 Conference) lost, 71–55, to La Salle, (6–13, 2–2 A-10) a team it had beat 14 straight times until that point. And Cardoza wasn’t talking about her starters, but rather the likes of freshmen guards May Dayan, Meghan Roxas and freshman forward Jacquilyn Jackson.
“I felt like they didn’t quit,” Cardoza said. “They continued to try to stay together and tried to figure out ways. And that’s what you want. You just want guys that are not going to quit, not OK with losing and try to do everything that they can to try to make a difference.”
That’s what this season has come to.
Cardoza sat key starters redshirt-junior forward Natasha Thames, despite her 66.6 percent shooting through the first half, and sophomore guard Tyonna Williams, for coughing up the ball nine times in 15 minutes of play, for almost the entire second half. She liked what she saw from her young bunch when combined with senior center Victoria Macaulay, sophomore guard Rateska Brown and freshman forward Sally Kabengano.
“It’s not that [Thames] just got benched or anything like that, I just felt like [Jackson] was being really aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Cardoza said.
“This was clearly an embarrassing game for me,” Williams said. “It doesn’t hurt me that she sat me because I deserved to be sat.”
Rather than play her best five throughout the game, Cardoza has resorted to playing those who fight the hardest and keep the mistakes down. Typically those should be synonymous ideas.
To be honest, this is all she has left to do. Macaulay has been great for much of the season but you can’t tell me her benching two weeks ago hasn’t had adverse affects. It’s a sign she isn’t the leader she’s supposed to be.
“After the game that I only played six minutes…I just took it upon myself to try to work harder and try to get better at the little things,” Macaulay said.
Williams is a firecracker on the court. She’s the team’s energy. But if she has an off night, like she did against La Salle, the team sinks with her. Her consistency will grow, but in a year or two as she matures.
“It’s just going to make me fight even harder,” Williams said. “It’s going to make me never look like that again. It’s going to make me a better player at the end of the day.”
So now there may very well be nights like Sunday, when three bench players get more playing time than several starters. Cardoza seems more committed to playing whoever has the most heart, the most hustle and the most control.
“I don’t think it’s the juggling,” Cardoza said. “I think it’s the wanting to win and doing everything in your power to make sure that you win basketball games. I just think that we’ve been inconsistent with what we bring to the table every day.”
Cardoza seems to be sending a message not just for this season, but next. She won’t simply play the best five basketball players. She wants the five best fighters on the court.
And there’s still 11 games left in the regular season.
“We put them in situations that probably they’re not used to and they took advantage of those opportunities,” Cardoza said of giving Dayan, Roxas and Jackson all playing time at the end of the game.
Those opportunities are game situations to learn from, not to capitalize on matchups and win a game.
Last season this team had its fighters in the starting lineup. Former guard Shey Peddy would run through walls to win games no matter what the cost; she broke her nose in the A-10 tournament crashing into the bleachers and shrugged it off to help win the Owls opening round match.
Who on this roster is willing to run through a wall?
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.