GREG DIXON/ Herald photo

In the late minutes of a game, Alyssa Karel has the ball in her hands more often than not for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team. Karel has become the go-to player for the Badgers this season with the departure of Jolene Anderson and Janese Banks.

Despite the pressure such responsibility brings, Karel thrives in late-game opportunities, all while remaining cool, calm and collected.

“Alyssa is a real chill person,” team captain Rae Lin D’Alie said. “She brings a lot of calmness to the team. She could go off and score 30 and act no differently than if she has an off night.”

Karel, a native of St. Paul, Minn., has started every game for the Badgers this season as a sophomore after averaging just 18 minutes per game in her freshman season. In addition to seeing her playing time increase, Karel has found a new position on the court as well.

Although the Badgers’ leading scorer has played point guard all her life, she moved to the off guard position this year, playing alongside D’Alie rather than competing with her for playing time.

“So far the transition has gone great. I like playing the two-guard a lot,” Karel said. “It helps to have someone like Rae Lin at the point guard position who is so capable of creating shots and finding people who are open.”

Karel’s scoring ability has been one of the biggest reasons for the surprising success Wisconsin has had so far this season. The Badgers were chosen to finish 10th in the conference, largely due to the void left by the graduation of Anderson, Banks and Danielle Ward — UW’s three leading scorers from a year ago.

That void, however, has been filled by Karel, who has only failed to score in double digits once this season in a nine-point effort at UW-Green Bay. The 5-foot-7-inch guard was honored as the 2008 Paradise Jam tournament MVP after hitting the game-winning jump shot against then-No. 6 Baylor.

Much of Karel’s success — according to head coach Lisa Stone — has come through the offensive freedom she has been granted by the Wisconsin coaching staff.

“I think Alyssa’s whole approach to the season was freedom,” Stone said. “I’ve always told her just to play because she is a great player. Entering the season, her attitude of freedom and her ability just to play is what I’ve noticed.”

Such freedom is evident in Karel’s ability to make moves offensively, drive to the basket and score in the lane. In fact, aside from the outside jumper, one of her most common shots this season has been a short runner in the lane.

“I have the green light, as [Stone] calls it,” Karel said. “I try not to take advantage of it, and I try to still take my shots within the offense. I just take my shots in the flow of the game and take what’s open to me.”

With such impressive offensive numbers, Karel’s other abilities often go unnoticed. For example, her tough defense has played a large part in the Badgers’ new pack-style defense. In fact, the St. Paul Pioneer Press named Karel defensive player of the year in high school.

“It took Alyssa some time adjusting defensively, but I think this year she has become a terrific defender,” Stone said. “It’s particularly important in our system for her to do what she does on the defensive end.”

Not only is Karel a strong defender, she also leads the team in defensive rebounds despite her small stature as a guard. Karel possesses a 24-inch vertical leap and often finds herself in the right place at the right time to grab the defensive rebound.

“Alyssa’s rebounding ability is huge for our team,” D’Alie said. “Jolene and Janese also were our leading rebounders last season. To have somebody at the two-guard grabbing rebounds is definitely an advantage.”

Karel, not one to boast of her ownabilities or accomplishments, gives most of the credit to the work done by the Badgers’ post players like Lin Zastrow, Tara Steinbauer and Mariah Dunham, to name a few.

“All the posts are in there boxing out the other team’s big girls,” Karel said. “Sometimes the guards just sneak in there and grab the boards. Honestly, I think that the posts do all the work, and sometimes I just get the credit for it.”

Of course, everything comes back to offense for Alyssa Karel, with good reason. Karel has good shooting range, leading the team in three-point field goals made this season and often impressing her teammates with her shooting ability.

“Sometimes in the summer, she’s just amazing,” D’Alie said of Karel. “Some days, she just goes off and it seems like she can’t miss.”