For any college basketball player 38 minutes a game is a lot to ask.
Yes, it’s not uncommon to see at least one athlete with at least 38 minutes on any box score, but that doesn’t diminish anything. Being on the court for over 90 percent of the action takes its toll.
The Owls ask that regular of senior center Victoria Macaulay. No surprise there.
Sophomore guard Tyonna Williams does that as well more often than not, but that’s because she’s the most capable point guard on the team and coach Tonya Cardoza doesn’t have much choice.
Then there’s redshirt-junior forward Natasha Thames. Thames played all of eight games last season before injuring her knee. She wasn’t quite 100 percent when this season began, and she’s not quite there yet.
“I definitely feel like I’m getting back to myself,” Thames said. “I’m not quite there yet but I definitely feel like I’m getting there.”
Thames has played at least 38 minutes in five of her last six games. The only exception was against Bowling Green on Nov. 28 when she left early with a concussion and missed the following game. No other player has that kind of streak going right now, and she’s the most banged up of them all.
Thames also pulls double-duty during these long games while trying to recover, playing center when Macaulay needs a breather despite being several inches shorter. But she’s the only logical option to do so.
It’s quite a demand on one of Cardoza’s most senior members.
“She’s doing well,” Cardoza said. “Every game that she plays in, every practice, is just better, because she’s been out of basketball for so long.”
“I’m not quite there yet but I definitely feel like I’m getting there,” Thames said.
At this point in the season the big accomplishment is that Thames is back on her feet playing consistent minutes on a team that lacks depth in the front court. Really she has to be on the court, pain or no pain.
“Just from the beginning of the season, just getting back used to it, my knee was sore a lot,” Thames said. “I guess I was always thinking about hurting my knee when I’m out there, but now I don’t have time to think about my knee.”
“Now I don’t think about it, I don’t get tired when I’m out there and playing a lot of minutes,” she added. “I definitely feel like I’m getting back to myself.”
Currently, Thames is averaging 6.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting at a 45.6 percent clip. She’s only taken more than ten shots once this season, against Northeastern, despite being one of the better shooters on the team in the early going.
They’re both solid numbers for a player returning from injury and starting every game for the first time in her career. She’s turning the ball over almost three times a game, however.
But with her and Macaulay being the focal points in the post game Thames’s stat line will have to improve across the board to help this team overcome its early-season struggles and take the next step.
She has the tools to be the number two option on this squad and take some of the load of Macaulay and even Williams. She just has to get comfortable on the court again and take charge.
“I just think it’s about getting my confidence back,” Thames said. “Because when I’m aggressive on defense that will make me be aggressive on offense.”
“So I think that’s one thing I need to do is be aggressive every night,” she added. “When I’m aggressive then I get fouled, I’m making free throws, I’m getting shots at the basket.”
Temple has only played four games in December and only has one more slated before the new year. The numbers show it’s helped Thames, averaging 9.33 points and seven rebounds in her past three games.
The rest this month should help her down the home stretch, especially during the Atlantic 10 Conference season, when she’ll be vital to helping the Owls make any sort of run for a title. She needs to continue to get better. The team needs her.