Jan. 7, 1998
Bowie's Been in the Pressure Cooker of Late
By Brendan Daly
Down by a couple of points, the game clock winding down, there’s time left for just one last shot — Paige Bowie has been in this situation before.
Only a month into the season, and the game has rested in the sophomore’s capable hands no less than three times. The first two times, the Golden Bears (4-5) walked away with a loss. But the third time, Bowie came up big.
The setting was the first round of the Oakland Tribune Classic Dec. 19 here in Kaiser Arena. The Bears were dueling George Mason shot-for-shot, and the teams were deep into the second overtime period. The Patriots made a pair of free throws to take a two-point lead, 69-67, with just 11 seconds remaining.
Without taking a timeout, the Bears quickly brought the ball upcourt and point guard Sherrise Smith found Bowie open on the right wing. She spotted up just beyond the three-point arc and let it fly. The ball sailed through the net with just three seconds left in the game, giving the Bears an incredible 70-69 victory.
“It was about time I finally hit one of those at the end of a game,” Bowie said. “Sherrise made a great move and got me the ball — I was wide open. I knew I would make one of those eventually.”
And who better to take the last shot. Bowie is the team's primary offensive threat outside, as she leads the team in three-pointers made and attempted this season, after shooting 32 percent from long distance as a freshman. She is one of the main reasons that Cal has been in so many close games, as the team strives to make improvement this season.
But Bowie still feels like there are a few kinks in her game. Rebounding and half-court defense are two of the areas that she is working to improve. A starter in every game this season, Bowie seems discontent with complacency. And it was exactly this relentlessness that led to Bowie's woes just a year ago.
In the midst of her freshman campaign, Bowie dove for a steal against Oregon State early in the Pac-10 season, and wound up injuring the pinky finger on her left hand. In spite of the injury, she continued to play three more games, before finally undergoing surgery in late January to repair the torn tendon.
Despite missing the last 11 games of the season, Bowie managed to garner enough votes to earn Pac-10 All-Freshman team honorable mention, and finished as Cal’s third-leading scorer (8.8 ppg). Her on-court presence was sorely missed as the Bears went on to lose their remaining 11 games.
A standout two-sport athlete at Clovis West HS in Fresno, Bowie was expected to compete for the starting shortstop spot for the nationally-ranked Cal softball team last spring, once basketball season came to a close. Unfortunately, rehabilitation for the injury to her “glove hand” continued on well into the spring and sidelined Bowie for the softball season as well.
“Sitting on the bench for both basketball and softball was really frustrating,” Bowie said. “But now, when I'm out there this year, I'm going to remember how it felt.”
Coming into this season with revived anticipation, Bowie has once again been a consistent contributor. She led the team in scoring in two of the three games played in the Hawaii tournament, including a season-high 19 points in a victory over Marshall University. Bowie ranks third on the team in scoring (10.6 ppg) and surprisingly leads the team in blocked shots (8). A confident shooter, Bowie leads the Bears in free throw percentage (79.2%) and three-point shooting percentage (25.8%).
“I need to be going to the line more often,” Bowie said. Obviously her work ethic isn't lost, even in off-court conversation.
In this way, Bowie's contributions extend far beyond her statistics. With a program that consists of a large crop of talented freshmen, Bowie's relentless determination provides an excellent role model for the new team members. And as one of only two returning starters from last year's squad, she has found herself taking on a new responsibility.
“One thing that's different from last year is that I'm taking on more of a leadership role because I've been here a year and we have a really young team,” she explained.
Another apparent difference from last year comes in the margin of victory, whether it be a Cal win or loss. Three of Cal's losses have come by three points or less, and the Bears finally won a couple of the close ones by grabbing a one-point victory at USF Dec. 3 and a one-point double overtime victory over George Mason Dec. 19. In two of those losses, Bowie has been the go-to player in crunch time, and she predicts those close calls will soon translate into victories.
“I think we're on the verge of really breaking out,” Bowie said. “We're going to start winning these close ones. You can see the potential all over the floor. Once we start running on all cylinders at once, we have the potential to beat a lot of good teams.”
With Pac-10 play rapidly approaching, it seems to be an opportune time for that. And if it comes down to the wire, Bowie will be ready to pop open for the winning jumper, because she's made them before. And she will make them again.