Tulane women’s basketball coach Lisa Stockton was thinking of the present but also looking down the road when she inserted 6-foot-2 freshman post player Harlyn Wyatt into the starting lineup.
The Green Wave had lost three of four games against the most difficult part of its schedule. It would take some doing to return to the NCAA tournament; Tulane needed a spark down the final stretch of the season and into the American Athletic Conference, where it would have to do well.
“We just felt like our rebounding was going down and we needed to be more physical,” Stockton said. “Harlyn is very physical, intense. She’s a physical defender, so I think she’s hard to score on.”
When Tulane (17-8, 8-5) plays at Central Florida (5-20, 2-12) on Wednesday night, it will mark Wyatt’s fourth start. She hardly has bolstered the Wave’s rebounding, averaging 3.0 in 21.6 minutes per game. However, it appears she’s been an effective big, strong body in the team’s rebounding scheme.
“Coach wants (the big players) to focus on boxing out,” said Wyatt, who has worked with strength coach Dan Rickabe since the summer and improved her strength and size. “If I box out my opponent, and one of my teammates gets the rebound, I’m fine with that.”
In Tulane’s 76-64 home win against SMU on Sunday, guards Kolby Morgan, Leslie Vorphal and Taylor Emery combined for 24 of the Green Wave’s 40 rebounds.
Tulane is seventh in the 11-team conference in rebounding, an area its coaches have been trying to find ways to shore up all season. They decided the perimeter players have to get at least 15 defensive rebounds, which also helps the fast break.
With the Wave second in the conference in field-goal percentage, going vigorously after offensive rebounds is not a necessity and could work against Tulane.
“The coaches want us to get back on defense, and I can get back quickly,” Wyatt said.
Although she doesn’t have many shot attempts, she has shown that she has good hands, catching the ball well and finishing in the post. She is averaging 6.0 points on 67 percent shooting.
“We would like to see her secure more rebounds, and we’ll work with her on improving her outside shot to 15 feet,” Stockton said.
Against Central Florida, which is near last in every defensive category, Tulane has an opportunity to get consecutive victories for the first time since Jan. 23, when it was on a three-game streak.
The Wave beat the Knights 75-54 on Jan. 10 in Devlin Fieldhouse, with five Tulane players scoring in double figures. A victory Wednesday would give Tulane its fourth season’s sweep of an AAC opponent. It has won both games this season against Houston, East Carolina and SMU.