Taylor Robinson hadn’t found her way onto the floor for game action in 43 days.
The sophomore center got her first playing time since February, scoring 9 points on 4-4 shooting, in the team’s 61-56 victory over the University of Pennsylvania to advance to the Sweet 16 of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
Robinson, who has been battling a foot injury, was cleared to practice last week and her effort off the court was noticed by coach Tonya Cardoza, who “rewarded” Robinson with playing time for her hard work in practice.
Despite only playing 10 minutes, Cardoza said Robinson’s presence was key for the Owls.
“It was key, we needed every single minute she was out there,” Cardoza said. “She can score for us. Until she really realizes her worth, it’s going to be difficult for me. Hopefully today it’s one of those days where it clicks. She can change the game for us on the offensive end.”
Robinson, whose 10 minutes was the most she has played since Feb. 1, was just ready to get back on the floor after what she referred to as a “frustrating” couple months.
“I was just really excited to get in,” Robinson said. “I haven’t played since the Tulane game … I really wanted to help my team out.”
Sophomore Safiya Martin said that Robinson’s nine points, the most she has scored since Jan. 20, helped space the floor, which helped the guards get open looks. The backcourt had success, scoring 41 of the squad’s 61 points in the second round matchup.
“It makes the guard’s job a lot easier, so there is not as much pressure on them” sophomore Safiya Martin said. “I love having her back.”
With Penn playing a 2-3 zone, the 6-foot-4 Robinson’s size was too much to hand, according to sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald.
“Nobody can check her,” Fitzgerald said. “She is a great player. I am so happy she’s back and hopefully she keep doing what she doing, working hard and help us win more games.”
Fitzgerald chipped in a game-high 16 points in the contest that pushed the Owls to 18-16 after two tournament wins. The sophomore guard scored the squad’s last 10 points, including an 8-for-8 performance from the free throw line.
“Those were huge,” Cardoza said. “It’s a two point game and she goes and makes all those free-throws. If she misses them, it’s something totally different. But for her to be confident and step-up to the line and make them, it says a lot about her.”
After the team’s loss to East Carolina in the conference tournament, the Owls were unsure if they would play another game this season. But Cardoza said the team was able to stay focused and have now won five of their last six games
“Our guys never quit,” Cardoza said. “They are always competing … no one threw in the towel. We knew if we could get things going the right way, we could turn things around.”
The Owls will host North Carolina State University on Thursday, with a chance to advance to the Elite 8 of the WNIT.