When Tulane center Harlyn Wyatt got into foul trouble against SMU's big front court Wednesday night, backup Ksenija Madzarevic came in and played 22 minutes, scoring eight points.
That tied her career high, which she also posted in the season opener against Grambling. But this time it helped Tulane (11-6, 2-2) win an American Athletic Conference road matchup after losing consecutive games.
“It makes me feel confident playing and doing well to help the team,” said Madzarevic, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Novi Sad, Serbia, who played in high school in Georgia. “Even though I fouled out, I feel I still had a good game. I'm definitely playing better than I did last year.”
Madzarevic is looking to have another good game when the Green Wave hosts Houston (8-8, 1-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Devlin Fieldhouse. Her play provided more than a glimmer of hope for the Wave, who are thin at the post positions and continue to have to battle in the lane.
If Madzarevic can provide consistently good play off the bench, it could bode well for the rest of the 16-game conference schedule. Coach Lisa Stockton said she has gained some confidence in her young post player.
“At this point of the season, we can't not still try to get better,” Stockton said. “I think things change and evolve with what you need from certain people. The game she just played gives her a tremendous amount of confidence and, going forward, hopefully she'll have that confidence going into other competition.”
Madzarevic is averaging just 2.2 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.3 blocks in 7.5 minutes. But her defense has been an asset, and in recent games she has learned how to better use her length without trying to block shots, which often saddled her with fouls.
“I just feel like on defense, even when I don't block shots, (opponents) change their shots against me,” she said. “I think I can help there a lot. When I'm standing in the paint with my hands up, it's like they are shooting over a 7-footer. It's hard for people to shoot over me.”
Stockton said the 22 minutes Madzarevic played was a good development, particularly compared to last season.
“Her conditioning is so much better now,” Stockton said. “Just going end to end is not a problem now. The 22 minutes she played against SMU, a lot of it was together. She's just got to get stronger. That's what we're working on.”
When that happens, Stockton said, Madzarevic will become more effective around the basket and a better rebounder. Madzarevic said she lifts weights three to four times a week. She has gotten stronger but still has a ways to go, she said.
“Last season, I had an ankle injury, and I missed the whole preseason,” she said. “Sometimes, I'm just weaker than my opponent. They don't push me around, but they jump higher or they box me out before I can box them out. But I'm getting better at hitting first. The person who hits first usually wins.”
Tulane has won its past five meetings against Houston and nine of the past 10. The Wave last lost to the Cougars on Feb. 17, 2013, 71-70 in double overtime at Devlin Fieldhouse.