Morgan Paige fits precisely what one would expect of a daughter from a family of coaches – a consistent performer who exudes confidence and shies away from individual credit in even her most outstanding game.
In her second year suiting up for the Badgers, the sophomore guard has been tasked with filling the major void caused by the departure of UW’s leading scorer last year, point guard Alyssa Karel. After posting a career-high 16 points in a two-point loss to Marquette Tuesday, the sophomore is quickly becoming an instrumental part of new head coach Bobbie Kelsey’s triangle offense.
Paige, a Marion, Iowa, native, was dribbling on the hardwood as soon as she could grip a basketball. Both of her parents were basketball coaches, and her mother served as her high school coach. Additionally, her brother Marcus, a senior who was recruited by top programs around the country, will be heading to Chapel Hill, N.C., next year to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Paige is praised by teammates and coaches for her confidence on the floor, something she sees as a product of her lengthy background in basketball.
“We’ve always been taught if you’re confident and aggressive with what you do, other people feed off that and other people become open,” Paige said. “I feel like I was trained to do that at such a young age that … it’s just something that I’ve always had. I don’t even think about it now.”
Though Paige’s confidence was on display last season when she stepped in for an injured Karel early in her freshman season, she has grown into her role as one of Wisconsin’s premier players this year. The left-hander is known for her fearless drives through the lane and deep range from behind the arc and is averaging a shade under 10 points per contest, a major upgrade from her 3.3 points per in 2010-11.
As shown in an impressive individual performance against Marquette – 5 of 9 from the field and 5 for 6 from the charity stripe – Paige’s steady confidence is growing. Wisconsin lacks an obvious secondary scoring option behind guard Taylor Wurtz, and Paige may be the one to fill that spot as the season progresses.
“She just stepped right in, and she’s been confident,” senior forward Ashley Thomas said. “We’ve needed her to step in that role, and it was almost like something that was unsaid, and she just knew on her own to be able to just come in and [think], ‘OK, I got to get this done.’”
Not a natural point guard, Paige is playing the part of a floor general this season because UW has no player with the necessary experience to lead the team at that position. Although freshman guard Lacia Gorman is a true point guard, the coaching staff is relying on Paige as Gorman develops.
Sharing her point duties with an experienced senior in Jade Davis, Kelsey has been impressed with Paige’s ability to not only adapt to a revamped offense but also to play outside of her ideal position.
“We do have Lacia Gorman, and she is a point guard,” Kelsey said. “But she’s just not ready right now to run the team like we need it to be. So we have to get Jade [Davis] and Morgan up there to kind of tag-team at the point guard position until we can get Lacia up to speed.”
Even after a career performance against the Golden Eagles, Paige is hesitant to assume full responsibility for her individual scoring. Noting that she had no idea she had set a career-high against Marquette until after the game because she was too focused on the back-and-forth battle, her “team player” mentality is more than simple adherence to the company line.
As the team continues to learn and become comfortable in Kelsey’s triangle offense – a system that the former Stanford assistant coach notes often takes significant time to truly understand – Paige sees it as a learning process for the whole team.
While change surrounds the UW women’s basketball program, Paige remains a model of confidence and consistency, characteristics that should have her powering the team’s offense in the weeks to come.
“Everybody had to step up; we lost a lot of scoring last year,” Paige said. “I think that the way that we’ve gone towards it as a team is lean on each other, know what your strengths and weaknesses are and bring what you can do best to the table. For me, it’s driving, making other people get open and hitting open shots.”