Tanaya Atkinson sat to the left of coach Tonya Cardoza inside Conference Room A of McGonigle Hall at the postgame press conference following a loss to Saint Joseph’s 70-67 Nov. 29, 2015, and knew she needed to contribute more.
Despite scoring 12 points, Atkinson turned the ball over two times without managing an assist.
“I am supposed to be taking the pressure off [sophomore guard] Alliya [Butts] and [junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald] because they were the only ones scoring in the beginning,” Atkinson said. “Since all the guards are more involved, we all have an equal share.”
In the team’s last 10 games, Cardoza adjusted her lineup, starting five guards. Before the change, Atkinson started with Butts and Fitzgerald at the guard position, with junior Ruth Sherrill at forward and junior Safiya Martin at center.
Atkinson is third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 points per game—compared to 10.6 last season. Since Cardoza switched to the five-guard lineup during the last 10 games, Atkinson is averaging 12.8 PPG.
“I needed to play more fearless and hungry,” Atkinson said. “Now I have the mindset that my teammates have my back whether I make mistakes or not.”
With five starting guards all standing 6-foot-1 inch or shorter, Atkinson is adapting to playing a post position.
Atkinson is averaging 6.1 rebounds per game this season, second best on the team. Against Villanova Dec. 2, 2015, the New Haven, Connecticut native pulled down 12 rebounds to help Temple to a 61-55 victory.
The following home game, Atkinson—who averaged 6.8 rebounds per game last season while starting in all 37 games—earned her sixth career double-double by totaling 18 points and 11 rebounds in a 92-62 win against Sacred Heart University.
“I like playing the floor, going into the paint a little more,” Atkinson said. “Usually when the other player is taller than you, you are a lot quicker, so I just use my speed to take advantage of the other people.”
With Atkinson spending more time in the paint against larger opponents, she said her body is feeling the pressure of her new position.
“It definitely hurts my body a lot with playing down against bigger people,” Atkinson said. “I just had to get off the court.”
Cardoza was frustrated after seeing Atkinson struggle early this season, but Atkinson responded with an improved defensive showing. She has totaled 15 steals this season.
“I told her, ‘It is going to be hard for us to win basketball games if she is not doing her part,’ and I think she took that to heart,” Cardoza said. “She has definitely grown from her freshman season to her sophomore year so far.”
Atkinson continues to struggle from the free throw line this season, shooting 50 percent from the line on a team that makes 67.3 percent of its free throws. Last season, Atkinson made 58.5 percent of her attempts.
Atkinson reached her season-high six free throws in Temple’s 69-67 loss to Southern Methodist Jan. 5.
“That is something that last year was an Achilles’ heel for her,” Cardoza said. “I told her that when she drives to the basket she needs to focus on the and-ones and don’t settle for getting the foul and going to the free throw line.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at email@example.com