Howard stepping up for UC Merced

01/18/2013 11:22 PM

09/11/2014 1:15 PM

Shelby Howard is learning a new definition for what it is to work.

The UC Merced freshman has taken the NAIA by storm, averaging 16.7 points per game in the program's inaugural varsity season.

The shooting guard's numbers rank her second in the California Pacific Conference in scoring and 29th in NAIA Division 2.

The gaudy numbers have drawn her opponent's attention.

"Especially with some of our other girls struggling to finish regularly, defenses are really starting to focus on Shelby and take things away from her," Golden Bobcats head coach Kevin Pham said. "We're having to get more creative in how we get her the ball.

"We're running the same sets, but she's coming off of a lot of screens to try and get her open."

The added attention, both defensively and within the Merced and NAIA communities, has taken some getting used to for Howard.

She proved herself a scorer as a four-year varsity basketball player at Norco High in Southern California, but has never been the focal point of an offense.

"I scored in high school, but never as much as this," said Howard, who has games of 27, 30 and 35 points this season. "I didn't think I'd have a season like this coming in. I expected to be a little freshman that just helped out where I could.

"I think it was the first game against Holy Names where I realized I needed to step up and embrace the role of being the go-to scorer.

"It's gotten a lot tougher as the season has gone on. Teams are playing me a lot tighter and I'm having to use a lot more screens to get the ball. It's a lot of work, and I'm definitely tired at the end of the game.

"At the same time, it's opening up a lot more space for my teammates and giving them opportunities to step up."

Howard is capable of burning defenses in multiple ways.

She's shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc and breaking teams down off the dribble with excellent quickness. Howard's smooth stroke and deft touch around the rim make her a natural.

But there's an inherent pressure that comes with being the go-to woman, particularly on a team that has struggled all season offensively.

UC Merced (2-14, 1-2 Cal Pac) is scoring just 52.3 points per game. Leticia Oceguera (8.8 ppg) and Kayla Polman (6.9 ppg) are the only other Bobcats contributing more than five points.

Howard's occasionally found herself putting up bad shots, just trying to keep pace with opponents.

Despite those learning moments, Oceguera said Howard has handled her role well.

"It's tough because defenses are really focused on denying her the ball," the freshman point guard said. "I have to be really patient and let things set up before I give it to her. I also have to learn to look to others, because the attention on her is getting other people open.

"She's done a great job getting points for us every night, but we could make it easier for her if we just knock down a few more shots a game."

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