Redshirt-junior forward Natasha Thames was figured to log big minutes in the Owls’ frontcourt all season long, but, recently, that hasn’t always been the case.
Thames, who is averaging 6.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, has seen her playing time decrease in the wake of freshman forward Jacquilyn Jackson’s emergence, who has seen consistent minutes as of late.
While coach Tonya Cardoza said she knows Thames is capable of being a valuable player, she said she believes Thames gets inside her own head, which hinders her performance.
Cardoza prefers Jackson from a mental standpoint, she said.
“[Thames] has the tendency to over-think things on the court,” Cardoza said. “[Jackson] doesn’t think, she just goes out and performs hard.”
Thames credits part of her psychological woes to an ACL tear that she suffered midway through last season, an injury that still lingers at times.
“I don’t feel like I’m 100 percent, but I’m definitely getting used to it,” Thames said.
The mental and physical struggles do not completely sum up Thames’ bizarre season. On Jan. 20 in an ugly loss to Duquesne, Thames was benched after playing 19 minutes for failing to act as a veteran leader.
Cardoza was unhappy with the way Thames, the second longest tenured player on a team that consists of six freshmen, carried herself. Senior center Victoria Macaulay was sat for the same reason after playing just six minutes. It was a brave move by Cardoza in an attempt to get a message across to her older players, a move that Thames “wasn’t surprised” by because she and Macaulay “weren’t really doing [their] jobs at all.”
Having clocked more minutes than Thames in three consecutive games, Jackson’s streak was snapped in Temple’s (9-11, 2-3) win against Richmond on Thursday Jan. 31, in which Thames played 34 minutes and Jackson played 14. However, as Thames played an average of 15 minutes during the three-game span, Jackson won over Cardoza with her aggressiveness and physicality.
Thames, again, didn’t shy away from admitting her shortcomings.
“I simply wasn’t doing my part,” Thames said. “I wasn’t giving the production I should have been. I wasn’t aggressive enough on offense or defense and I was just kind of out of it those games.”
Jackson, who played a total of nine minutes through the first month of the season, said she has come a long way since November. She grabbed a career high eight rebounds in 28 minutes on Jan. 23 in a win against the University of Pennsylvania, and scored a career high seven points in a loss to La Salle on Jan. 27, playing 28 minutes for the second straight game.
“I’ve just been doing all of the little things,” Jackson said. “Boxing out, rebounding, making hustle plays. As long as you’re doing good on defense, you’ll play.”
However, Cardoza has tended to award more playing time to those that have shown hard work and dedication, the exact reason why Jackson played just 14 minutes against Richmond and then seven minutes against Massachusetts on Sunday, Feb. 3, after averaging 29 minutes the previous three games.
“I base things on what I see in practice,” Cardoza said. “The last couple of days I felt like [Thames] deserved more minutes than [Jackson] based on her practice habits.”
While Jackson is much more physical, Thames is still arguably the better offensive weapon. She’s reached double-figures three times this season, including a career high 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting against Howard on Jan. 4.
Even though she’s made considerable strides, Jackson said she knows there’s still progress to be made.
“I need to work on my offensive game so I can be an offensive threat when I’m on the court, and not just a defensive player,” Jackson said.
Although Thames has started 20 games this season and has been at Temple for as long as Cardoza, she and Jackson may find themselves in a seesaw battle for playing time for the remainder of the year. Barring any setbacks or a big splash in recruiting, they will presumably make up the Owls’ starting frontcourt come next fall.
With Jackson currently coming off the bench as her back-up, Thames said she has embraced her and has tried to help her adapt to college basketball.
“Me and [Macaulay], we try to talk to our post-players a lot,” Thames said. “We try to be there for them. If they want to work out we’ll go, ‘Let’s go to the gym.’”
Tyler Sablich can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TySablich.