Wisconsin women’s basketball guard Jade Davis possesses the key characteristics of a defensive-minded player: intensity, energy, aggressiveness and a sense of pride in her ability to defend.
The junior out of Lone Tree, Colorado may not have the offensive statistics that senior stars Alyssa Karel, Lin Zastrow and Tara Steinbauer have, but she is one of the Badgers’ strongest defensive players. Davis, who spent part of the year coming off the bench, has solidified a starting role and is often faced with the task of guarding the best players in the Big Ten.
“She’s arguably our best defender; we 90 percent of the time put her on the other team’s best player,” assistant coach John Barnes said. “She’s done a great job of taking that role, of trying to shut down the opposing team’s big scorer … We expect her to play great defense and make open shots.”
Davis averages 4.5 points per game, the lowest of any starter, but ranks second on the team with 1.14 steals per game. Her defensive intensity is quickly apparent in any of Wisconsin’s games, as she can always be heard yelling “ball” from the sidelines.
While other player’s measure their performances on how many points they score or how many rebounds they collect, Davis focuses on the statistics of the player she defended. Her list of achievements include keeping Purdue’s star guard Brittany Rayburn from scoring a single point in their matchup earlier this year.
“I pride myself on defense sometimes,” Davis said. “Some people feel good scoring 17 points; I feel good when [the player I’m defending] doesn’t score 17 points. So I think there’s just some sort of difference there.”
The junior guard has truly had a breakout year as she has averaged more points and almost doubled her minutes from last season. Setting career highs in essentially every category, Davis seems to have found a comfortable role for the Badgers this season.
Having started just one game coming into this year, UW fans may not have expected to see such improvement in Davis. However, coaches and teammates had confidence that she was ready to become a major contributor for the Badgers.
“In preseason…we expected her to be in this role,” Barnes said. “She’s improved on [her game] throughout the year, and that’s the way you win the Big Ten, is if you can get better every day in practice, and learn from your mistakes and use the game situations to get you better. And hopefully at the end of the year you’re playing your best basketball, and that’s the way she’s headed.”
Like many players coming in as freshmen, Davis admits that her expectations may have been a little ambitious coming in. A player who won three state championships in high school, she averaged just 14.1 minutes a game during her first year in a Wisconsin uniform.
“Every player comes in as a freshman thinking, ‘Oh I’m going to get this, I’m going to get that,'” Davis said. “I mean, it was kind of a reality check at first, but I think I’ve kept working, and I just wanted to be better every single day. So I think that’s helped.”
Much of Davis’ development can be traced to the game-like intensity that she maintains during practice.
A fierce competitor, her teammates realize that there is never an easy matchup if she is facing up with them. Although she may not fill up the box score, it is hard to deny that Davis’ presence on the court encourages the whole team to play strong defense.
“She comes to every practice just battling, and just working as hard as she possibly can,” sophomore guard Taylor Wurtz said. “I think Jade has a really solid defense, and she brings that ‘X-factor’ to our team…Jade’s a hard worker, and I expected great things from her.”
Beyond her defense, Davis is one of the most enthusiastic and vocal members of the Badgers’ squad, something that certainly has a positive effect on her teammates.
A crucial aspect of her defense, the junior guard seems glued to the ball and always has a hand in the defender’s face. On a team that is built around defense, Davis seems to be the perfect player to have on the Wisconsin roster. Her love for stopping the best players from scoring appears to have rubbed off on her teammates, and since she has become a regular starter, the Badgers have been winning a lot more games.
“You don’t want Jade to guard you,” Wurtz said. “She gets up in your shorts, and she just plays great defense and she’s always talking out there too, which communication is a big part of defense.”
The rest of the Big Ten is hoping it won’t be guarded by Davis, too.