It’s not too often that freshmen jump into a starting role this early in the season for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team. Yet, that is precisely the situation with freshman guard Morgan Paige.
After star senior guard Alyssa Karel, the team’s scoring leader, went down with an injury in the exhibition season, Paige stepped into an unexpected role to help fill the huge void. The 5-foot-9 freshman out of Marion, Iowa took advantage of the opportunity and proved that she was ready to compete at the college level, allowing her to maintain a starting roll for the Badgers after Karel returned.
“Just being thrown in there and the experience that I’m getting right now is going to help in the long run,” Paige said of being forced into a starting role. “But, I never expected this…it’s fun, it’s really exciting.”
Starting all nine games that Wisconsin has played this season, Paige has made her presence felt by averaging 5.7 points per game in 25.6 minutes of playing time. Putting up a career-high 14 points in the Badgers’ overtime loss to Kansas, Paige has not been afraid to take shots and play a big offensive role.
Although she is just a freshman, Paige has shown her maturity is well beyond her years, as she had no problem taking over the point while Karel was out.
“I think it’s just her confidence, because she’s so even-keeled,” senior guard Alyssa Karel said. “She goes in there knowing that she might make mistakes here and there, but if she makes one mistake she’s not going to make the same mistake again. She learns quickly, and she’s so wiling to do exactly what the coaches are telling her.”
As a senior, the experienced Karel has acted as a mentor to Paige, helping her adjust to the college game and offering constant advice. Karel’s help has undoubtedly played a major part in the impressive start to Paige’s career.
But despite all the advice provided to her, like any freshman, the difficult transition from the high school to the college game has not always been an easy one for Paige. Unexpectedly thrown into the starting point guard spot for the Badgers, Paige has not exactly been given a lot of time to develop and get used to the college game.
“I would say the tempo of the game is a lot faster and is something that you have to get used to,” Paige said. “Playing what, nine, 10 games now, starting finally to get the hang of it, but the speed and tempo of the game is the main difference. It’s very challenging to deal with.”
Raised in a basketball family — both of her parents were coaches — Paige’s strong fundamentals and comfort with handling the ball are clearly a product of the coaching background she grew up in. With an average of just over two turnovers per game, Paige has quickly showed that she can be an effective point guard, even though it is not her normal position.
Her basketball background has also given Paige a competitive edge, one that allowed her to challenge more proven players for playing time since day one.
“She’s got a toughness about her that, when she’s in the game or when she’s in practice, she competes,” assistant coach Ty Margenthaler said. “Just because she is a freshman, she doesn’t play like one or act like one. She wants to take someone’s spot. That’s kind of the difference…her overall work ethic.”
With any young athlete, there is always room to develop and become a more complete player, and Paige is no different. Although she had an impressive shooting performance against Kansas, shooting is an area where she has struggled at times this year.
Averaging a field goal percentage of less than 30 percent from the field and making just over 20 percent of her shots from 3-point range, Paige’s shooting could use improvement. However, with strong fundamentals and an impressive work ethic already in place, making these adjustments should not be an issue.
“At the beginning of the year, she was getting shots, and so I think that’s definitely something that she can continue to work on…her outside shooting,” Karel said. “But I’ve just been very impressed with her this year.”
Paige has already had a major impact on UW’s young season and has seen a lot of action for a freshman. As she continues to gain experience and grow into her role with the Badgers, Paige can only get better.
“I really think she, in time, is going to be a really good leader, because everything that she does she follows, and so I’m excited about her leadership in the future,” Margenthaler said. “With her work ethic and with her wanting to be the best, she’s going to be a tremendous player in time.”