One of Niya Beverley's primary roles with the University of Wisconsin women's basketball team is to make opponents feel uncomfortable.
At the same time, however, the 49ers also were able to make things uncomfortable for Beverley as they repeatedly fouled her to send her to the free throw line in the second half, with cringeworthy results.
All things considered, it was still an impressive start for the Badgers' only scholarship freshman as she contributed nine points and three assists with just one turnover in 32 minutes to lead the way to an 80-66 victory over a team that beat the Badgers in the previous season opener.
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For the most part she showed many of the traits that first attracted UW coach Jonathan Tsipis to her when he was coaching at George Washington and she was playing at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C.
"The first thing when I saw her play is she really takes a lot of pride in the pressure she can put on the ball to start a defense and really make people feel uncomfortable," Tsipis said. "She just has a tremendous amount of pride to use her abilities to keep the ball in front. It's something I felt we were really lacking last year. She's somebody that when I saw her play as a freshman (in high school), I saw that part of her game."
Senior Cayla McMorris agreed her defensive impact is significant, but added Beverley also changes the look of the offense.
"Niya definitely brings a different level of intensity to the program," McMorris said. "I feel like her speed and quickness allows her to push the ball up the floor and that gets us to run with her so we can get more transition buckets. I feel like we're a more fast-paced team with her."
Beverley is the second straight freshman point guard to start for the Badgers, following Kendra Van Leeuwen, who now starts alongside her in the backcourt and fills in for her when she rests. She's also served as a mentor and sounding board for Beverley.
"My teammates have all been great and Kendra has really been helping me through it all," Beverley said. "She's awesome. She understands what I'm going through, so if I ever have a question she's always the first one there to help me."
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One area where Van Leeuwen can commiserate with Beverley is with struggles at the foul line. Last year Van Leeuwen shot just 42 percent from the line, a number that would look pretty good to Beverley after missing seven of eight attempts on Sunday.
"That's not a trend that we're trying to continue in any way," Tsipis said.
After she missed her first two free throws in the third quarter, Charlotte targeted Beverley with a hack-a-Niya strategy, chasing her around the court and grabbing her as soon as she touched the ball.
Tsipis tried to mitigate things by subbing her out for Suzanne Gilreath when possible, but he understands that's just a band-aid.
Assistant coach Craig Carter is working with her on her shooting form, trying to get her elbow from flaring out. But Tsipis said making substantial adjustments is more of an offseason project.
For her part, Beverley is determined to improve her free throw shooting, beginning tonight when the Badgers host UW-Green Bay (1-0) at the Kohl Center.
"Coach Tsipis definitely did a good job of helping me through it," she said. "I think it did get in my head a little bit, but I'm moving on. I'm over it, I'm past it and I'm working every day to fix it. I just have to get my elbow in and get on my toes and I think it will all be fine."
This article is written by Dennis Punzel from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.