Skip the Nebraska game on Sunday, Nov. 11, for a moment and look no further than the Owls’ (1–1) season opener against Montana on Friday, Nov. 9, to see how this team will run the rest of the season.
In a nutshell, the first half is what the team will be in several games — sloppy, wide-eyed and a bit in over their heads — and the second half is what they will be when senior center Victoria Macaulay takes over — focused, athletic, and tough defensively.
It’s going to be the theme for the entire season, but Macaulay is the heart and soul of this team. There wasn’t a more noticeable player on the court in McGonigle Hall.
“Obviously she’s our go-to player, she’s our leader, I thought she played an outstanding game, dominated the backboards,” coach Tonya Cardoza said.
Montana did a good job in the first half keeping her outside the paint forcing her to take several jumpers. It was the Lady Griz’ plan, and the likely plan of many teams the rest of the season, to keep as many bodies inside to force her to make a play away from the net. But teams tend to forget that Macaulay’s mid-range jumper is better than some perimeter players.
When Temple fell behind by 10 just six minutes into the game, it was up to Macaulay to lead them back. Points and rebounds weren’t going to cut it. She had to make the kinds of plays that nobody notices on the stat sheet. Without it they never would have come back and won 55–41, holding the Grizzlies to 14 points in the second half.
“This gave me more confidence in myself and more confidence in my team,” Macaulay said.
“Tonight it showed that we’re warriors, we’re strong, we can fight through it and we have a lot of heart,” sophomore guard Rateska Brown said.
Macaulay finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds. It was her third double-double of her career, and easily the most dominant she’s been in her career. But when she wasn’t putting something up on the box score she was hustling up and down the court making her presence felt.
She consistently clogged the lanes and forced several bad shots and kick outs, all while fouling just once.
Cardoza had her biggest girl out in space on offense at times, and flying into the paint at others. Macaulay drew so many fouls herself that she took 13 of the team’s 25 free throw attempts.
But it didn’t come without a price. Macaulay fell hard nearly as many times as she took a shot. At first they were simple bumps, when in the first game of the season the pain disappears in a few minutes.
But each fall looked like it was taking its toll, as she got up slowly more often as the game progressed. As the focal point on offense this is going to be a common theme. She doesn’t have some of the bulk that other centers do either, so it will be interesting to see if she has to miss time due to injury.
“I’m a warrior,” Macaulay said. “Any bruises or bones that are hurt, I’m still going to fight through it.”
As for that Nebraska game, in which Temple fell 64–39 to a heavily favored Cornhuskers squad? Macaulay took just eight shots, scoring six points while grabbing five boards. She only played 28 minutes, however as Cardoza tried to give her a breather whenever possible in a game where the team never really had a chance.
Blowouts are exactly what can happen when Macaulay isn’t on, or when a team has the capability of shutting her down. At the same time, that 28–14 second half against Montana is proof positive of just what kind of impact she can have when she brings her “A” game.
Cardoza said before the season that she expects Macaulay to average a double-double this season. Well right now she’s got one in two games and is averaging 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.
The Owls better hope those numbers hold at the very least.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.