With only two seniors returning for the 2012-13 season, Massachusetts women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley wasn’t about to lament over the many burdens facing her relatively inexperienced squad; someone among UMass’ five freshmen would have to step up for the team to be competitive this year.
What Dawley couldn’t have known before the season, however, was that one of the newcomers, freshman forward Rashida Timbilla, would not only rise to the occasion, but would, in fact, emerge as one of the Minutewomen’s top players.
The most recent confirmation of Timbilla’s ascension came in a pair of weekly awards – UMass Player of the Week and Atlantic 10 Conference Honor Roll – recognizing her superlative play in recent games against Ohio and Miami (Ohio).
Timbilla, a native of Ontario, Canada, has been a revelation of sorts early this season, filling out box scores left and right.
Through eight games, she leads the team in rebounding (9.0 rpg) and steals (2.4 per game), is second in shooting percentage (54.5 percent), assists (3.0 apg) and blocks (1.0 per game) and is third in scoring (10.3 points per game).
In the Atlantic 10 Conference, Timbilla’s numbers are good for a fourth-place tie in total rebounds and fifth in steals. She also leads the league in offensive rebounds with 36.
As such, Dawley hasn’t kept her stud rookie confined to the bench for any longer than necessary, resulting in a team-leading 256 minutes played.
Timbilla has been especially crucial for the Minutewomen of late, as senior center and co-captain Jasmine Watson has been limited with post-concussion symptoms. Without its team leader, UMass rallied together for its second win, and first road victory, of the season against the Bobcats.
“We just asked a little bit more of Rashida,” Dawley said of the win over Ohio. “She had the ball in her hands a little bit more, ended up with 16 (points) and 13 (rebounds). I think what I saw in Rashida was ‘(I) refuse to lose.’ Something clicked, and she just said ‘It’s not happening today.’
Timbilla “played really good defense, got big boards, scored for us and then got some huge blocks,” Dawley said.
With the win UMass moved to 2-0 in games in which Timbilla records a double-double.
Even in the Minutewomen’s follow-up loss to the RedHawks, Timbilla drew the praise of her coach with a 7-point, 15-rebound effort at Miami.
“I saw just great effort (and) fight,” Dawley said. “Fifteen rebounds is huge.”
Still, the freshman forward has room to grow. In addition to her already-polished resume, Timbilla can also claim some less than impressive numbers, including a team high 3.9 turnovers per game and a 47.6 free throw shooting percentage. She’s also fouled out of four of UMass’ eight games.
Dawley chalks Timbilla’s over-zealous struggles up to freshman nerves and growing pains. Even so, the Minutewomen hope Timbilla’s development continues by becoming even more aggressive on the floor.
“What we need from her is to look for her own on offense a little bit,” Dawley said. She’s a phenomenal distributor, which is great, but when, say, (sophomore Emily Mital) has hit a cold spot, we need Rashida to maybe to look for her own a little bit. If we could go back and play that game (against Miami) and Rashida shoots maybe five more times, maybe it’s a different outcome.
“But she’s a freshman; she’s learning the game,” she said. “She’s learning how to play under pressure and 15 rebounds is remarkable.”
Daniel Malone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.