South Carolina forward Laeticia Amihere fended off Shakira Austin near the free-throw line, cut to the right and drove to the rim. When Amihere went up for a layup, she drew a foul on the Maryland women’s basketball forward, her second in a 46-second span during the first quarter Sunday.
Austin glanced toward the bench, lightly swung her arms in frustration and headed to the sideline. She stayed there for the next quarter and a half, watching on as her teammates competed in a tight battle with a top-10 foe. It was a frustrating performance from Austin, managing two points in just 14 minutes of action.
Entering the season, coach Brenda Frese said Austin was the most improved player on the team, noting her consistency as a primary factor. But through two games in the 2019-20 campaign, Austin has faced ups-and-downs.
She posted a career-high 18 points in Maryland’s season opener against Wagner, before being a non-factor against the Gamecocks. To Frese, Sunday’s display signaled the sophomore still has plenty of room to grow.
“She’s not ready quite yet. She’s going to be, she’s going to be a star,” Frese said after the game. “At 6-foot-5, she should be the difference maker for us … and she will be one day, but it’s just staying patient through her process.”
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Austin set the Maryland record for blocks last season with 89 and was a force on both the boards and defensive end for the Terps. Despite her offensive game remaining raw, the Virginia native showed ample potential.
While she started 21 games as a freshman, Austin has come off the bench in each contest this year — including two preseason fixtures.
Even though forward Stephanie Jones is currently the starting big, the team may rely on Austin more this season without center Oliva Owens, who has yet to dress for a game. The Terps needed Austin’s best against the Gamecocks, but her off-game allowed South Carolina to out-rebound Maryland by 16 and let forward Aliyah Boston control the paint.
“It hurt having to sit on the bench and watch not being able to contribute to the game. [I know] that I can’t be in that situation again,” Austin said. “I have to stay out of foul trouble. I have to be able to give something, whether that’s defense or offense.”
[Read more: South Carolina prevails over Maryland women’s basketball in top-10 battle, 63-54]
Maryland had a long film session reviewing the loss, but Frese said she’s happy with how Austin responded in the practices since her poor outing. She and the rest of the team recognize how vital Austin can be when she’s at her best, as well as notice the loss of energy and trust in the defense when she isn’t.
To avoid inconsistency moving forward, Frese says Austin’s “wiring” must change so that her defense dictates her offense and not the other way around. On a team with its offensive weapons mostly on the perimeter, the Terps need Austin to fill in the gaps in other areas.
“It impacts us [when she’s off her game],” Frese said. “I think the wiring for Shakira has to change that she can always bring her defense [so] it’s not predetermined on her offense. So if her defense isn’t there it really has a huge impact on us, we lose that rim protector and that trust in our defense.”
The Terps travel to James Madison on Wednesday for their first away game early this season. The Dukes don’t have a player listed taller than 6-foot-2, so Austin has a good opportunity to impose her will and bounce back.
Austin’s coaches and teammates believe she can blossom into the best version of herself. She just has to put all the pieces together.
“I expect us to give [James Madison] the best shot that we have. We should be making a statement off the South Carolina game,” Austin said. “We just have a lot more to prove now.”