Taylor Robinson sat on the bench at the Palestra, eagerly awaiting a chance to make an impact.
The sophomore forward spent the previous 42 days without seeing court action due to a lingering foot injury but was cleared last week to return to practice. Given the opportunity to return, Robinson worked diligently to earn the minutes that had eluded her during the final stretch of the season.
In her first opportunity to see game action since Feb. 7, Robinson capitalized, playing a significant role in the Owls’ 61-56 win against Big 5 rival University of Pennsylvania in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“I was just really excited to get in the game,” Robinson said following the contest. “I really wanted to help my team out, that was really what pushed me to get in there.”
Robinson, who tallied nine points on 4-of-4 shooting to go along with two rebounds and a block in 10 minutes of play, celebrated the team’s vengeance of its rival in the postseason.
“It’s just the best feeling to come back and beat [Penn],” Robinson said. “They beat us the first time by two points, to come back and beat them [at the Palestra], it just feels great.”
Owls coach Tonya Cardoza said Robinson’s minutes were contingent on her own game-by-game performance early in the season and was pleased with the forward’s performance.
“It’s just her effort,” Cardoza said on Robinson’s return to action on Sunday. “She’s been committed the past week or so. I told you when she had a great night [against Cincinnati on Jan. 20], ‘Taylor determines her playing time.’ When she comes to practice and she busts her butt in practice, she’s rewarded with playing time.”
Robinson, who was a McDonald’s All-American nominee in high school, had high expectations headed into her collegiate career.
Last season, Robinson played in 24 games and started 11 of them. The St. Louis, Missouri native ended the season averaging 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, which earned her a spot on the American Athletic Conference’s All-freshman team.
However, Robinson has shown flashes of strong play. She netted 15 points and four rebounds against Howard in 29 minutes of action. In Temple’s second meeting with Cincinnati in January, Robinson sank 14 points while logging 16 minutes.
However, the bulk of her season featured a hiccup in Robinson’s development. Her numbers are down to 4.5 points per game and 2.6 rebounds so far this season.
Even before her recent injuries, Robinson found it difficult to keep herself on the court. She has played in 22 of the team’s 34 games this year and averages 13.3 minutes per game.
Despite the Owls’ obvious need for an inside scorer, the sophomore found her minutes varying from game to game. For example, in the following game after her solid performance against Howard, she logged only three minutes of action.
Robinson said her inability to become a steady presence inside hurt the squad early in the season.
“[It was] very frustrating for everyone,” Robinson said. “Not just me, but the coaches [and] my teammates. I wasn’t consistent and that hurt the team. So I’m trying to make [Sunday’s win] carry into the next season [by] taking care of my body … getting in the best shape I can and just working hard.”
Another reason for this is conditioning. While her 6-foot-4-inch frame provides an obvious advantage over smaller defenders on the offensive side of the ball, her ability to defend smaller players, especially those who can shoot outside, has been a work in progress.
Cardoza subbed Robinson in and out on offense and defense late in Sunday’s game because of this.
Robinson is aware she needs to find a way to address this issue in the offseason so she can stay on the court more often next season.
“Basically, just taking care of my body because that has been an issue,” Robinson said of how she can continue to improve and stay on the floor. “I’ve had a lot of injuries this year. So taking care of my body, getting in the best shape I can and just working hard.”
Robinson and her teammates both know that it is important for the team she finds a way on to the court. Even when she is not scoring, her presence can open up space for her teammates and help relieve pressure.
Her teammate in the post, sophomore Safiya Martin, said her and Robinson’s complementary playing styles are essential for the team’s success.
“We’re two different types of post players,” Martin said. “She’s more of a scorer. I’m more of a defensive player. When both of us are playing at our top game, doing what we’re supposed to be doing, it’s a different game out there.”
Sophomore Feyonda Fitzgerald said she sees her teammate as a mismatch problem for other teams.
“Nobody can check her,” Fitzgerald said. “Taylor’s a great player. I’m so happy she’s back now. Hopefully, she continues doing what she’s doing, working hard and help us win more games.”
Whether Robinson can be a consistent post presence for the Owls next season will not be decided in the WNIT. While she put up solid numbers in Sunday’s contest, Robinson was on the floor for one-fourth of the game.
It appeared like she was reaching her full potential after her performance in the Howard and Cincinnati games, but she failed to maintain that level of play.
Cardoza said she is aware of this, but hopes Robinson’s performance in the game against Penn can be a building block moving forward.
“Until she really realizes her worth, it’s going to be difficult for her,” Cardoza said. “Hopefully [Sunday] was one of those days where it finally clicks that she can change the game for us on the offensive end.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.