Far too often the past few weeks, coach Tonya Cardoza has said the same thing.
“This is a tough one to swallow.”
The Owls (7-10, 1-2 Atlantic 10 Conference) spent the break, and the start of the A-10 season, finding different ways to lose almost every game.
Fall behind by 20 at the half? Check.
Blow a second half lead? Check.
Play sloppy throughout and fall just short? Check.
It hasn’t been pretty. Temple just doesn’t seem like a Cardoza-coached team.
“We lose the game to [Virginia Commonwealth University on Wednesday] because we don’t box out, we don’t put a body on them, and then we come in here and right from the very beginning that’s what we do,” Cardoza said.
In the loss to VCU there was some noticeable tension between freshman guard Tyonna Williams and other players on the team.
“I can’t lose my head like that though, because it affected my game,” Williams said after that game. “I’ve just got to do better in situations like that.”
This can’t be a case of lacking talent. The Owls, although young, are loaded with multiple players who can do plenty on the court to contribute.
As Sunday’s 65-45 drubbing at the hands of Duquesne (14-3, 3-0 in the A-10) indicated, the fault belongs largely to the senior leaders.
Senior center Victoria Macaulay’s ability to dominate goes without mention. Redshirt-junior forward Natasha Thames is one of the better defenders on the team and a solid scorer, even if she doesn’t put up a ton of shots.
Cardoza benched them both Sunday for not competing hard enough. They played a combined 25 minutes.
“If we’re yelling at our younger guys to do things and they’re not doing them, then it’s not fair,” Cardoza said. “I think it starts with them. If they’re not doing it, then if we’re going to lose I’m going to lose with the younger guys that don’t know any better.”
“That was just a message that needed to be sent, that if you’re not going to do the things that are asked, the things that are important, the things are going to help your team win and you’re capable of doing those things, and you just choose not to, then you’re not going to play,” she added.
For some of the younger members of this squad, the message is already crystal clear. Cardoza praised Williams, freshman guard Erica Covile and freshman forward Jacquilyn Jackson for stepping up their efforts after the team had a heart-to-heart a few weeks ago.
“I felt like [Covile], out of everybody, has changed the most,” Cardoza said. “She’s committed to trying to be a better defender, trying to communicate.”
“[Williams is] a competitor, she’s going to give you everything she has,” Cardoza added. “It might not always be pretty but you know that she’s going to compete and try her best to do what’s needed for her team.”
A coach should not be praising her underclassmen and benching her seniors, though. Cardoza can only do so much, substitute players so much, experiment so much, before she simply must blame certain players for a lack of effort.
For Macaulay, she talked at the beginning of the year about how she wanted to improve upon her breakout A-10 season last year. For the most part she has. But senior leaders don’t get benched.
“It’s just about doing the little things that are going to help the team and if you’re not going to do those things then there’s no reason for you to play,” Cardoza said.
The Owls better hope Macaulay and Thames were humbled by this. It’s a tough pill to swallow for any athlete, but there’s a lesson behind it.
If not, expect to hear Cardoza repeat those dreaded words several more times.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.