By trade, Tanika Mays is a post player, and most of her baskets for the University of Toledo come inside the painted area.
On defense, Mays' position is more difficult to define. Rockets coaches usually assign her to guard the opponent's best player. And it doesn't matter if that player is a point guard, sharp shooter or inside threat.
Mays' production on both ends of the floor has been a big part of UT's 3-1 start in Mid-American Conference play.
The Rockets (9-8) host Central Michigan tonight at Savage Arena.
The 6-footer from Marion, Ind., is in her first season playing for UT after transferring from IUPUI and sitting out
last season. She's leading the team statistically in conference games with 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. Mays' 14 steals in MAC play are tied for league best.
"We've been giving her the toughest defensive assignment every game and she's flourished," UT coach Tricia Cullop said. "With her lateral speed, her wing span and her quickness, she makes it very difficult.
"Sometimes if you're playing against an aggressive player, it brings that out of you too. We need that from her."
On offense, Mays has had two consecutive 17-point performances. Cullop wasn't happy with the Rockets' overall defensive effort in their loss at Ball State on Saturday, but she was pleased with the job Mays did on 5-foot-9 Cardinals guard Porchia Green. Green is a returning first-team All-MAC player and one of the quickest players in the league, and Mays held her to seven points and forced five turnovers.
"Tanika makes things look open that aren't," Cullop said. "She can close the gap in a second. I appreciate that so much about her. If you can't stop the other team's best player or at least frustrate them, then it's going to be a long night."
Tonight's matchup will be more conventional with Mays trying to stop Chippewas forward Britni Houghton, the second-leading scorer in the MAC at 18.5 points per game. But against Eastern Michigan last week, Mays primarily guarded 5-7 point guard Sydney Huntley-Rogers and held her to seven points, including 1-of-6 on
Cullop has never had a forward on her teams defend so many perimeter players, so the ease with which Mays has picked things up has surprised her. Mays comes from a family of basketball talent, with her younger brother, Julius, on scholarship at North Carolina State.
"She's doing a phenomenal job, because it's not something she's been doing," Cullop said.
Mays was voted a team captain in the preseason before she had played a game for the Rockets. On a young team with just one senior, she knows her play has to set an example.
"I'm learning more. Every day is something new and something different that I face," Mays said. "I'm not going to say I'm the greatest leader, but I'm working on it."
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