BOWLING GREEN - Kate Achter dribbled the basketball on the left wing, waiting and watching. Bowling Green State University's women's team led Central Michigan by 14 points, but Achter wanted more.
The Clay High School graduate saw teammate Megan Thorburn make a cut. Achter saw an open area in the Chippewas' zone and lofted a pass into the opening.
But Thorburn zigged when Achter expected a zag, and the freshman guard threw the ball into an area patrolled by three Central Michigan players. Less than 30 seconds later, Achter took a seat on the BG bench.
"Execute, execute, execute," Bowling Green coach Curt Miller said as Achter jogged past.
It was another winter night at Anderson Arena, and it was another game in Achter's development. Last year's Blade player of the year is still learning her role on the Falcons, and it's a big one. She starts the offense and keys the defense from her point guard position.
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That would be enough pressure for any player. But there's also the adjustment of stepping up from high school basketball and its eight-minute quarters to college basketball and its 20-minute halves jazzed by a 30-second shot clock.
Oh, and one other thing: Bowling Green is 17-6 overall and 10-2 in the MAC, which means the Falcons are gunning for a league title and the school's first NCAA tournament berth since 1994.
Now that is pressure.
But pressure is what turns coal into diamonds, and Miller believes he has a gem in Achter.
"You see growth every single day from Kate," Miller said before the season began. "I do believe she has a chance to have an outstanding career here. I just need to be patient with her as she learns exactly what we're asking from her."
In the 40 minutes of BG's 72-58 victory over Central Michigan Tuesday, there were glimpses of that potential - and the work that still needs to be done.
First half, 12:09 on the clock. The Falcons trailed 13-11, but Achter cut hard off a pick, drove through the lane and scored on a layup that ended an eight-point Chippewas run.
Last season Achter didn't run the offense at Clay - she was the offense, averaging 24.9 points per game.
But the Falcons have three double-figure scorers in sophomores Ali Mann, Liz Honegger and Carin Horne, so Achter doesn't need to score.
"[Not needing to score] was a big adjustment, especially coming off a good postseason where I put up some big numbers in high school all-star games," Achter said.
"I realized I have teammates that I can throw the ball to and who will hit open shots on the wings. I don't need to do everything."
And yet Achter does a little bit of everything. She averages four assists per game, third-best in the MAC. She grabs 4.2 rebounds per contest, third-best on the team. And she scores 9.8 points per game, fourth on the team and 27th in the league.
Miller said the numbers are indicative of Achter's importance to the team.
"In our offense we give her the ability to go to the basket, so she can score," Miller said.
"She's had a good year with assist-to-turnover ratio, especially with all the defenses she has seen.
"The ball is in her hands a ton. There's no one in this league that handles the ball more than Kate, and there's no one who has more asked of them than Kate."
Achter finished with eight points against the Chippewas, but added six assists, five rebounds and three steals in the win.
Her assist and steal totals were game highs.
First half, 4:29 on the clock. A 7-2 Central Michigan run has created a 27-27 tie. There's a timeout, and Miller is screaming at his team. His face is red, his veins are popping.
Achter, who has just subbed back into the game, watches and listens closely as the coach erupts.
Achter said she has tried to learn from mistakes - both hers and others.
"One of the big points in practice is that when somebody else screws up, you have to learn from it so you don't go on the floor and do the exact same thing," Achter said. "So when [coach] calls a timeout and makes corrections, it's good to pay attention because you don't want to do the same thing and make him more upset."
Unfortunately, Achter has made enough mistakes in practices and in games to face Miller's wrath directly.
"I'm always tough on the point guard, and I'm really tough on her," Miller said. "I was a point guard. I expect a lot out of that position. In our system, our point guard has to have a good year or we won't have a good year.
"There's no one I've been harder on this year than Kate."
Achter said she didn't feel Miller has been that tough.
"He has to get after me because I'm thick-headed and I don't always want to listen," she said.
"It hasn't been any different than I've had in the past."
Miller said Achter responds positively to criticism.
"She doesn't mind what I term 'coaching' but what an observer might call, 'yelling,'●" Miller said. "She doesn't mind being challenged vocally. I can be sarcastic, really direct with her. I can come with the positive reinforcement, too, and she responds to it.
"She doesn't cower from criticism."
Both Achter and Miller said the freshman uses the criticism as positive motivation.
"That's exactly what I want to do when somebody yells at me and tells me I can't do something - I want to prove them wrong," Achter said.
In fact, Achter said at the beginning of the season she felt more pressure from her teammates than from Miller.
"I didn't feel pressure from the coaches, because they were confident in my abilities, but I did feel pressure from my teammates," Achter said. "They lost two great senior leaders, including a point guard. To come in as a freshman, especially when you're playing with 12 people you've just met, and run the team is really hard."
Second half, 9:03 on the clock. Achter found Mann near the basket for a layup that extended BG's lead to 18 points.
The Chippewas scored, but on the next possession Achter zipped a pass to Jill Lause under the hoop for another basket.
Miller and Achter met the day before the Central Michigan game. Miller said the talk focused on more than Achter's play this season.
"One of the things we talked about was that it's a long season. The intensity and length of the college season is definitely longer than the high school season," Miller said. "I felt Kate needed to get her second wind. She was tired."
"I felt I was hitting the wall a little bit," she said. "My high school team just lost, so their season is done. We still have a month left to go, and it's a longer season than I've ever played."
The Falcons still have four more regular-season games. Then comes the MAC tournament, then hopefully the NCAA tournament.
Miller said he already has seen enough to grade Achter's performance during her freshman season.
"I believe Kate is the MAC freshman of the year," he said. "There is no one who asks more of their freshmen than we do [of her]. She may end up statistically not the highest, but there's no one who asks more of her than we do. How much we put the ball in her hands, how much we ask her to break pressure, how much she sets the tempo of our offense and defense."
Achter admitted she has thought about the MAC's freshman of the year award, but she tries not to dwell on it.
"It definitely has crossed my mind, but us winning a MAC championship is much more important than me being recognized as an individual," Achter said.
"I'd rather win it for my team than for myself."
And beyond this year? Well, Miller isn't afraid to put more pressure on his star point guard.
"Next year we're going to challenge her with a tremendous point guard [recruit Jasmine McCall]," Miller said. "[Achter's] going to have to work hard offensively in the offseason to learn how to score from 15 feet and out.
"Her competitiveness is second to none, and her desire to win will always be there. So the sky is the limit for her."
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