Jan. 4, 2000
BERKELEY - Say it ain't so Paige. Say it ain't so.
Four years have past since then-freshman Paige Bowie strolled onto the California women's basketball team. It seems like just yesterday that the 6-0 forward was fresh off the bus from Fresno and taking little time to acclimate herself to her new environment. Bowie posted very solid numbers that first season, as she was the team's third-leading scorer with 8.8 points per game and averaged 10 points against Pac-10 opponents, good enough to earn her honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman recognition.
Her play was so outstanding that she became a go-to player as a sophomore. To go with her on-court prowess, Cal coach Marianne Stanley asked her sophomore forward to step up her role as a team leader, something Bowie was somewhat uncomfortable with on a team of older players. But if there is something to the adage of leading by example, then Bowie shined in her role, leading the team in scoring (11.0 ppg) on her way to garnering co-team MVP honors. She mirrored that performance as a junior, as she once again led the team in scoring, averaging 11.9 ppg, on her way to earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention.
Well, now that freshman is the only senior for the talented Golden Bears. And with age comes experience.
"I feel more comfortable with that (leadership role) now. I think coach looks to me, and the players look to me, too. I feel I'm more comfortable in that role for sure."
"Paige has taken on an increased leadership role this season," said Stanley. "She knows the ropes and knows what it takes to get the job done. As the only senior, I think Paige feels a sense of urgency about our team having a winning season this year."
Through her first six games, Bowie is averaging 7.7 points and a career-best 4.7 rebounds per game, not bad numbers, but not good numbers for a player who is used to averaging double digits and has led the team in scoring the last two years. She ranks fifth in scoring so far on this year's squad.
While Bowie would like to improve her personal contributions, the team goals of winning and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament are paramount for her.
"My personal performance this year has not lived up to my expectations," said Bowie. "As long as we continue to win, I am completely satisfied, but I would like to contribute more."
Regardless of Bowie's statistical production, her leadership is invaluable to the younger players. And like a true veteran, she has come through in crunch time and has the confidence of her teammates. Against USF, Bowie drilled a jumper which gave Cal a 58-56 lead with 45 seconds to play. Even on Kenya Corley's game-winning basket against the Dons, Corley admitted she was looking for Bowie before the lane opened for her shot.
For a player who began the year ranked fourth all-time at Cal for three-point attempts (323), fifth in treys made (97) and 10th in three-point percentage (.300), Bowie's 4-26 (.154) from behind the arc this year is not meeting her standards.
Other aspects of Bowie's game have improved, however.
"I feel like my defense has improved, and I've been able to get more rebounds," said Bowie.
With the improvement of several of Cal's younger players, Bowie has not had to carry the offensive burden this year. Bowie sees great things in the play of Kenya Corley (14.8 ppg), Courtney Johnson (14.5 ppg) and Ami Forney (12.7 ppg), the team's three leading scorers.
But even with some hot triggers in the ranks, Bowie still seems to be top gun. The Cal web site (calbears.com) has been conducting a poll the last few weeks asking visitors to predict who will be Cal's MVP this season. Despite her slow start, Bowie still leads the pack by a substantial amount.
Bowie recently showed signs of improvement in her homecoming trip to Fresno State, Dec. 4. She got over the double-digit hump with an 11-point effort and a season-high seven rebounds..
It is solid performances like that one that have established Bowie as a leader for Cal women's basketball. Everyone who attends a Cal game knows the name, or will soon learn it. Droves of young basketball players show up at every contest in their oversized uniforms and their pigtails done up. They all know Paige Bowie.
"I think it's great that they come out to games," said Bowie. "Anything we can do to get them watching women's basketball and involved in women's basketball is positive."
Although she has grown comfortable with her role as a team leader, Bowie seems a little reticent at first to describe herself as a role model. Eventually she comes around.
"I think you have to be," said Bowie. "If people are going to look up to you, then you have to fill that role."
But for now, the only role Bowie is looking to fill is that of scoring threat. If history is any telltale, Bowie should come around and have an excellent senior campaign.