Over the offseason women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and center Lady Comfort discussed the sophomore’s role on the team. In the meeting, Staley laid out her expectations of Comfort, placing extra emphasis on rebounding, scoring and in game aggression.
But in order for Comfort to get the amount of minutes necessary to become an interior force, Comfort and Staley agreed on one thing: That Comfort get in shape.
Comfort responded to Staley’s meeting by shaving 40 pounds off her 6-foot-2 frame. She won a starting spot in the Owls’ frontcourt. But her progression has not stopped there. Comfort has provided the Owls with a solid interior presence to supplement senior all-America candidate Candice Dupree.
“Most of the offseason I just worked on conditioning because, last year, I was kind of injured, so I didn’t really do as much as I wanted to,” Comfort said. “Over the summer and over our breaks that we had, I lost a lot of weight and I just tried to stay in shape and just tried to run more.”
Comfort spent the entire offseason conditioning her body to withstand the tolls of playing 30 minutes a game. Comfort wasn’t satisfied with her freshman season, she said. The center struggled with a left knee injury, and the weight loss has since lessened the pressure on her afflicted joint.
“Sometimes I do care about my injury, but sometimes I don’t worry about it at all and just try to play,” Comfort said. “At times I go off, other times, like now that we’re in conference play, I just don’t worry about it at all. So the weight loss really helped to keep the pressure off my knees.”
As the season has rolled along, Comfort has gradually increased her playing time. Through the season’s first five games, she averaged only 17 minutes per game. Since then, she has averaged 26 minutes in the Owls’ last 13 games. As her minutes have increased, so has her production.
Comfort’s 6.3 rebounds per game trail only Dupree for the team lead in that category. Comfort’s 8.1 points per game aren’t that intimidating, but her 65-percent shooting percentage tops the team. Comfort’s emergence as an offensive weapon has provided the Owls with another dependable post player, Dupree said.
“It makes it a lot easier on the team because, of course, I get double- and triple-[teamed] in the post every time,” Dupree said. “But if she can score every game, then it takes some of the pressure off of me.”
In games that Comfort has reached double-digit scoring, Dupree has shot 8 percent higher than when Comfort fails to reach double-digits.
Through her emergence as an interior threat, Comfort has had the benefit of learning from one of the nation’s best post players.
Dupree and Comfort split time at the center and forward positions, so this season has been a learning experience for the frontcourt-mates. They’ve had to learn how to play off of one another. Dupree said she has given Comfort a few pointers during practice, too.
“We’re trying to get her to work on staying low, posting up instead of standing so straight up,” Dupree said of Comfort. “I think, [with her] moves, she knows that she can dominate. She’s one of the biggest post players in the [Atlantic Ten Conference] so we’re just trying to get her to learn all that and put it together.”
Owls assistant coach Darius Taylor works one-on-one with Dupree following practices. He tries to ready her for games with teams that have a big and physical inside presence. In his second year with Temple, Taylor worked individually with Comfort in the preseason. But since the start of the season, his practice time with Comfort has been limited, he said.
“In the beginning of the season, I tried to kind of work with her some, a little bit,” Taylor said. “[I took her aside] one-on-one, working on her balance and just getting better at posting up.
“Once she gets the mindset that not only comes with getting older, but getting more repetition, she can dominate … every night.”
Comfort displayed her potential in the Owls’ A-10 opener Jan. 6 against Charlotte. She dominated the interior, posting career highs of 18 points and 13 rebounds for her first career double-double. It’s the type of performance Comfort said she should be putting up every game.
“Right now, as Coach [Staley] said, I should be dominant,” Comfort said. “So I should get double-doubles every game. Scoring as of now, I’m not doing what I should be doing, [with] my potential. But I should get double-doubles just about every game.”
Double-doubles were out of the question for Comfort last season. She averaged 1.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in 7.2 minutes per game as a freshman off the bench.
Dupree, who averages nearly a double-double with 16.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, said Comfort needs to become more aggressive in order to take her game to the next level.
“When she gets mad enough, I think that’s when she plays the best,” Dupree said. “That goes for a lot of post players. They might be kind of soft at first but you have to be aggressive, be determined.”
TEMPLE 67, XAVIER 62
The No. 21 Owls again relied on their frontcourt to hand Xavier its first home loss in 19 games Sunday at the Cintas Center. Comfort, Dupree and junior forward Kamesha Hairston each finished in double-digits scoring as the trio accounted for 56 of the Owls’ 67 points.
The Owls (14-4, 5-1) suffered a scare late in the game. On a breakaway attempt, Hairston turned her body to receive a long pass, and fell directly on her tailbone. She was forced to leave the game, but returned about 30 seconds later and was on court when the final buzzer sounded.
The Owls already had one of their starters watching from the bench. Senior point guard Jennifer Owens sat out the game with an injured ankle, which was incurred during the Owls’ 48-47 upset win over No. 9 Rutgers Thursday night.
Sophomore guard Fatima Maddox started in place of Owens. In her first start with Temple, Maddox tallied five points, five assists and five rebounds in 31 minutes of action.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.