As soon as Temple stepped onto the Tom Gola Arena court, the mismatch that redshirt-senior Natasha Thames faced was glaring.
“It was [intimidating] at first,” Thames said, referring to La Salle’s 6-foot-5-inch center Leeza Burdgess.
In Temple’s one game, the Owls have been forced to start a small-ball lineup, which may present obstacles against bigger teams on their schedule.
On Friday night, Temple defeated La Salle 60-47 for its first victory of the season, but the final scoring margin does not convey the team’s size deficiency that came into focus. With a roster holding three players who stand taller than 6 foot, Temple has started a lineup with four guards: sophomore Erica Covile, freshman Feyonda Fitzgerald, junior Tyonna Williams and fifth-year senior Shi-Heria Shipp.
The Owl fifth starter is their sole forward on the floor, Thames. With Thames standing in the Owls’ center position, the senior forward was matched up against a duo of La Salle bigs throughout the 40 minutes of play. La Salle’s centers both shared a noticeable height and size advantage over the thin-framed Thames.
“We knew coming into this year that Tasha was going to have to guard out of position,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “It’s just how it is.”
In the early going, Thames appeared flustered when confronted with a larger opponent, turning the ball over three times in the first half. Despite some early first period miscues, La Salle’s size advantage became less advantageous as the game wore on, as Thames held her own under the rim en route to her sixth career double-double, recording 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Though Thames and the Owls were victorious with their small lineup against La Salle, Thames fouled out of the game late, raising concerns about her ability to guard bigger opponents consistently.
“This is what I expect of Tasha,” Cardoza said. “This is something that Tasha can do at any given night as long as Tasha believes that, [but] she has to make sure she doesn’t get in foul trouble.”
Thames said the assignment would have been daunting alone, but her teammates provided help when she was being overmatched physically.
“Offensively, I can attack at the basket and pull [opposing centers] away from the basket,” Thames said. “On defense, [I will have to] just be strong. I had help. I was fronting and I had help on the other side. I was confident that my teammates could help.”
Temple’s small lineup resulted in big games from veterans Thames and Shipp, but Cardoza said improvement from her young centers will be necessary for the Owls to survive against bigger teams. To relieve Thames against La Salle, freshman center Taylor Robinson played nine minutes to lighten the burden for the senior forward.
Cardoza said she’s reluctant to start either of the team’s freshman bigs, but the development of center Safiya Martin and Robinson will likely decide continued use of Temple’s lineup.
“I felt like Taylor had a really good week of practice and because of that I wanted to reward her,” Cardoza said. “She went in [against La Salle] and proved, ‘I can help out.’ She just gave herself more minutes with how she played. She was able to give Tasha a breather and when Tasha was in foul trouble, she held down the fort for us.”
“That’s something both her and Safiya are going to have to do,” Cardoza added. “They’re going to have to come in and play those bigs because there’s no way that Tasha can survive a whole season playing against 6-4 kids.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.