The Badgers will welcome Northwestern to the Kohl Center Sunday for their final home game of the season and honor their three seniors. In that group is the team’s leader, who leads by her actions on and off the court, was selected as a third-team All-Big Ten member last season and who her teammates refer to as “Mo.” She is 5-foot-9 senior guard Morgan Paige.
Paige grew up in a basketball-centered family in Marion, Iowa. Her parents, Ellis and Sherryl, met while playing college basketball at Mount Mercy University, a division three school in Iowa, so it’s no surprise that both Morgan and her brother Marcus, have made it to the upper-levels of college basketball. Both parents have coached basketball, with Morgan’s mother coaching her in high school.
Morgan is 15 months older than her brother Marcus, who is currently a sophomore playing for men’s basketball powerhouse, North Carolina. Morgan is quick to mention that her relationship with her brother has been instrumental in her getting the chance to play at Wisconsin and has made her into the prolific player she is today.
“We’ve been playing basketball for forever,” Paige said about her brother. “Always growing up, we’ve had basically a shooting partner or a workout buddy through the whole process. Now that I’m older, I can shed some light on pace of game, how things pan out and keeping at it with the work ethic. He can chime in with critique or skills. It’s a nice little one-two combination and we get on each other a lot.”
As injuries plagued the Badgers last season, Paige stepped up and had the best season of her career. As a junior, she led UW in scoring at 15.9 points per game, which was good for sixth best in the Big Ten and earned third-team all-conference honors. Her best game came against the toughest competition, when she knocked home a career-high 33 points in an upset win over No. 7 Penn State Jan. 31 of last year. Badger head coach Bobbie Kelsey feels Paige has really developed into a scorer in the last few years, after not see much playing time her freshman season.
“She wasn’t starting that much or playing that much her first year in the program,” Kelsey said. “But she has developed into a great scorer, and there were times where she — I mean, she could get 30 points like that. She struggled here as of late, but we do depend on Morgan to create some offense for us off the dribble and with her 3-point shot.”
Paige has been active in getting her teammates open and creating offense. With her ability to attack the basket, players such as fellow senior Taylor Wurtz are found wide open on the perimeter and makes their job of scoring that much easier.
“Morgan draws a lot of attention from other teams,” Wurtz said. “So just by that I’m going to get more open looks and more clean shots. I think we play well with each other. I can hit her for an open three. She can find me because we look for each other, so it has really helped us.”
This season Paige isn’t scoring quite as much, averaging 12.2 points per game, but that’s likely been due to a revamped backcourt that saw the return of Wurtz from an injury, and the addition of redshirt junior forward Michala Johnson. Wurtz and Johnson are second and first on the team in scoring this season.
But despite the minor drop off in points, Paige’s leadership qualities are what has made her one of the most important players on the Badger’s team. Wurtz, who arrived in Madison a year before Paige, took Morgan under her wing in her freshman season. The two have now played together the past four seasons and Wurtz see’s Paige’s ability to be a leader, on and off the court, as one of her defining characteristics.
“The biggest quality Morgan brings to this team is leadership,” Wurtz said. “She contributes in multiple ways in scoring, defending, all of that. But just outside the court, she brings leadership. She just sets a really good, strong example for us.”
On the court, Paige never seems to take a play off. If she commits a turnover or loses the ball, it’s apparent that she has a strong determination to get back on defense and never give up on the play. This attitude is one Paige attributes to not wanting to let her teammates down and makes this an emphasis of her leadership on the court.
“I’ve always been taught to play both sides of the ball and that every possession is important,” Paige said. “If you take [a possession] off, it’s a discredit to your team. You’re not helping them out and giving them your best effort. I just try to bring that energy every single time, whether we’re on offense or defense.”
As Paige wraps up her Badger career with just one more regular season game and the Big Ten tournament on the horizon, she is already looking to her future, a future that hopefully has her playing professionally overseas. But for her career at Wisconsin, Paige simply hopes that people remember her by the example she set for herself, her teammates and the hard work that she put in during her four years at UW.
“I hope I set an example on and off the court,” she said. “When it comes to hard work, when you put your time in as an athlete, it will pay off. And I hope that I’ve done the best I can to lead by example.”