Assistant coach Fred Chmiel noticed something different about Dara Taylor other than her usual speed — “that girl can shoot,” he said.
Coming off of a career-high 18 points against Michigan State, Taylor said she is finally comfortable in her role as a starter and scoring threat after redshirting last season.
“Dara is a very capable player. She is very good and sometimes I don’t think she knows it,” Chmiel said. “Just playing without hesitancy, she herself got on a roll there and wasn’t thinking about it. Shots are going to fall for her because she can shoot.”
Alex Bentley said that it is not easy being a point guard for the former point coach Coquese Washington. And according to Chmiel, Taylor got her first taste of what it meant to be a leader.
“They had a private meeting [after the Northwestern game] and I think Coquese expressed her desire for Dara to shoot the basketball and she had a great game,” Chmiel said.
Being away from actual game play gave Taylor the unique opportunity to observe from the bench and learn a new offense.
“Taking a year off is harder than people realize, you are away from the game, real games, she practiced and stuff, but it just took a second and everybody is starting to see what she can really do,” guard Maggie Lucas said.
With the support of her coaches and teammates behind her Taylor is now established in the starting unit. Taylor said that if she can continue to be a scoring threat she thinks it will open up more driving lanes for Lucas and Bentley.
“I have now started a couple games here and I am starting to feel pretty confident in my role.” Taylor said. “I work on my shot a lot in practice, so to finally see it pay off in a game is really big for me. I think it is going to be really great for the team.”
Taylor came out of high school as a McDonald’s All-American and had one of the best freshman seasons at point guard in program history at Maryland. It was just time to shake the rust off from the redshirt season before the Lady Lions saw the impact of her presence on the court.
The first few games of the season were mediocre for Taylor, but the turning point came against Northwestern when she looked to be passing up shooting opportunities, which was uncharacteristic for Taylor, who attempted 195 shots her freshman year.
“I think it’s confidence. We were talking about her passing up shots against Northwestern,” Chmiel said. “You can tell the thought process, the gears are turning, got that almost half a shot fake like ‘should I pass it? Shoot it?’ Not against Michigan State, she was fantastic. It’s all coming together now.”
For the newcomer, Taylor has seen significant minutes, starting eight games and playing in all 14.
“It is very hard to redshirt a year, sit out, watch everybody play and see the light at the end of the tunnel. She didn’t get a lot of reps with our starting unit last year,” Chmiel said. “It has taken her some time. She wasn’t starting right away, she was coming off the bench, directing traffic and what not. She has a good feel for them now and it has helped her out with her game.”
Taylor has been the much-needed complement to Bentley who adds quickness and variety to the Lions’ offense, especially with looks to the wing shooters.
“Dara gets after it on the defensive end, pushes the ball up the court. Her confidence is growing as she gets more comfortable offensively,” Bentley said. “She has always been a great defender. She is picking her times to run the team offensively and [when] to score.”
Taylor said she is impressed with the Big Ten after just two games of playing in the conference.
“Especially coming off the championship last year, we are going to get everybody’s best game, which I love,” Taylor said. “Everybody is going to be competitive, every game is going to be a battle and I am ready for that.”
Chmiel said he felt like Taylor scored 30 points against Michigan State. Also that teams are no longer going to be able to put two or three players on Lucas because Taylor is going to be wide open, especially Nebraska is looking at the film from Michigan State, they are going to say “hey, we can’t leave Dara open.”
“Teams see that they have to start respecting her, she is putting up those numbers and she played unbelievable in the game on Sunday,” Lucas said.