Of Vanderbilt’s six freshmen, none has made a bigger impact than forward Heather Bowe.
She leads the Commodores' newcomers with averages of 6.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 17.7 minutes per game.
But for coach Melanie Balcomb, the 6-foot Bowe isn’t developing fast enough. And Balcomb shoulders the blame.
“If anything I held her back by not getting her enough minutes,” Balcomb said. “She has to play. The more minutes Heather plays the more productive she is.”
As the Commodores (14-6, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) hit the road to play at SEC newcomer and 16th ranked Texas A&M (16-5, 6-1) on Thursday, Balcomb plans to keep Bowe more involved.
On a vertically challenged team that has lost three post players to season-ended injuries, Balcomb feared subbing in Bowe for guard/forward Elan Brown. At 6-foot, Brown can play both positions, is the team’s second-leading rebounder and is a threat from 3-point range. So lately Balcomb has kept Brown fresh by keeping her in the game but moving her from the physical post to the perimeter.
This allows Balcomb to play three 6-foot players at the same time with Brown, Bowe and senior forward and leading scorer Tiffany Clarke.
On Sunday, in a win at Alabama, Bowe rewarded her coach’s trust. She came off the bench, played a career-high 30 minutes and recorded her second double-double with 13 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
“That was my first big moment,” Bowe said. “I just wanted to play hard the whole time. My main priority is to give Tiff the ball, play my role, run down the court and just play defense. Just by working hard that happened.”
A Parade All-American from Eau Claire, Wis., Bowe has played in every game except one, when she was sick. She has started twice and Balcomb said she might move her back in the starting lineup soon.
Based on her first 19 career games, Balcomb believes Bowe is the type of player who thrives in big-time games. She just has to make sure gets those chances.
“I play freshman right away and I want to play them. It is my philosophy,” Balcomb said. “[Typically] they do well against teams who are not BCS and not SEC. I’ve noticed Heather is the opposite in that the tougher the team, the more physical, the more athletic, the better she is. She doesn’t prey on the little kids. She actually is big in the bigger games. She is one of our toughest players and hardest workers.”