A preseason injury kept redshirt freshman Mayowa Taiwo off the court last season, but she’s bounced back this year and exploded into Atlantic 10 play.
Taiwo earned a pivotal starting role on the squad this season, becoming a regular to the starting lineup last month and contributing 5.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in that span. The Hanover, Md.-native reached career highs in both points and rebounds in her first four games of conference play.
“I’m hoping to be a consistent player for coach,” Taiwo said. “She’s really looking for somebody to play both sides of the floor, so I hope to bring my defense into offense.”
Taiwo said she developed a bond with redshirt freshman guard Tori Hyduke, who was sidelined with an ACL injury last season, who helped her through recovery and overcome the first-year roadblock.
“We were buddies in the training room together,” she said. “We got shots together. So just encouraging each other and seeing each other progress back into it.”
Taiwo averages 6.2 rebounds per game and has amassed 106 total rebounds this season. On offense, she averages 5.3 points per game over the course of 17 games.
She has garnered career highs in A-10 play, taking 14 rebounds against Fordham Jan. 12 and 18 points in a victory over Duquesne Jan. 8. Against conference foes, she averages 7.8 points per game and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game.
Her strength on the boards distinguishes her from other players in the A-10. In conference games, Taiwo ranks No. 9 in rebounds per game, and she ranks third among A-10 players with 3.5 offensive boards per game.
To elevate her level of play, Taiwo said she wants to increase her shooting percentage and communication on defense. She holds a .390 shooting percentage, which ranks fourth among teammates with 50 or more attempted field goals.
She added that she wants to limit her turnovers. Taiwo has amassed 39 turnovers on the season, which ranks second on the team behind Hyduke’s 48.
Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said Taiwo has become “more comfortable” with her strength and quickness, and she has the ability to harness her skill set during games to succeed.
“I’ve really tried to put her in positions where she can use her strength and her quickness to get easy baskets,” Rizzotti said. “But she’s worked really hard on being able to change her pace and find different ways to score based on how the defense is guarding her. So she has a lot more patience.”
In the absence of junior forward Neila Luma, who has been relegated to the bench with an injury since Nov. 20, Taiwo has provided much-needed intensity down low, averaging 23.6 minutes on the court per game. Rizzotti said she hopes Luma will be able to participate in practice in the coming weeks to provide Taiwo with a “veteran presence” and substitute.
“I do think having a veteran presence out there for Mayowa will be helpful for her,” Rizzotti said. “There will be times when I want to take her out and we don’t really have that explosive four-player to sub in or defensive-minded post player that can defend on the perimeter to sub in.”
Rizzotti added that Taiwo is learning how to adapt to the different defenses opposing teams implement to counter her play and increase her offensive range to the perimeter to serve as a double threat.
“Honestly, I feel she’s probably our most improved player up to this point,” Rizzotti said. “She’s made some really big strides in her development, and I think her confidence has skyrocketed as a result of that.”
Graduate student forward Alexandra Maund said Taiwo is an athletic “tank” and plays at “100 percent” during every moment of every game.
“I’ve had some teams that have been close, but she is 100 percent every second that she is on the floor and it is so incredible to watch,” Maund said. “Even when she’s dog tired, she’s still pushing as hard as she can.”
She added that Taiwo is working on toning down her intensity at some points during the game to better read the defenses and to capitalize on the attack instead of forcing the ball.
Taiwo said her confidence has only grown “a little bit” since finding more court time this season, but Maund said it’s because Taiwo plays with humility.
“She is just one of the smartest and most talented people I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Maund said. “And sometimes I’m like, ‘Really? You don’t have to be good at everything.’ But it’s in such a humble way and she’s very shy about all her talents.”
The Colonials return to the Smith Center against Dayton at 7 p.m. Wednesday after a two-game road stint.