When Arizona’s Jade Loville was at Arizona State last year, she was the second-leading scorer in the Pac-12. It was a necessity for the Sun Devils. This year, she’s adapting to having a number of other scorers around her and to new defensive demands.
“I like it a lot better having the pressure taken off,” Loville said. “And it’s not so much as a pressure thing, but it’s also the defense has to guard all of us on this. I’m not being double-teamed. I’m able to come off screens and have an open look.”
Loville averaged 16.6 points per game during her one year at ASU. She was the only Sun Devil to average double figures. After not being known as a great 3-point shooter during her time at Boise State, she connected on 43.3 percent of her outside shots, good for third in the conference. Prior to that, she had never hit more than the 24.4 percent she connected on during her first season with the Broncos.
Loville is still a reliable scorer for the Wildcats. Her 39.3 percent shooting percentage from the three is third on the team among players who have taken at least 10. She’s just not the only option.
Arizona currently has five players averaging double figures. In addition to Loville with her 11.2 PPG, they can go to Shaina Pellington (14.8), Esmery Martinez (13.7), Kailyn Gilbert (12), and Cate Reese (11.2) Two more are not far behind with Maya Nnaji accounting for 9.2 PPG and Helena Pueyo getting 8.7 PPG.
Some things haven’t fallen into place yet, though. Loville has hit only four of her 11 free throws. That 36.4 percent is a dramatic drop from the 76.4 percent she hit last season. It’s a big drop from her worst season, which was 69.2 percent during her sophomore season at BSU.
Her overall shooting percentage has not come around yet this season, either. Loville has connected on 38.8 percent of her shots. That’s the lowest since she shot 36.5 percent during her freshman season at BSU. She has taken 67 shots this year, which is by far the most on the team.
“It's no secret that I’ve kind of had a slow start,” Loville said. “I haven’t been shooting as well as I’m used to. And I think with the confidence that my coaches instilled in me and the confidence that I have in myself, I’m still going to continue to take those shots. There’s a lot of work that goes in behind those shots that I take, so I think it’s just a matter of time before they fall and I’m not too worried.”
Barnes is not concerned, either. She has spoken about Loville’s work ethic since before the season started. Loville is in the gym working before and after practice. Both Barnes and Loville believe that work will pay off.
Besides, Barnes is not just focused on getting Loville’s best for the Wildcats. She’s trying to prepare her star scorer for the next level. That comes with growing pains.
“We’re pushing Jade in a lot of ways,” Barnes said. “We’re having her do things that she’s never done. So I think challenging her to be a better player, which that’s going to show I think in a couple of weeks...I mean, she hasn’t played so much defense in her career and she’ll tell you. But I think for us, it’s challenging her to take her next step as a player and get to the next level, and how can she do that?”
Loville sees growth in the entire team on the defensive end.
“We needed to really minimalize our straight line drives,” Loville said. “We were getting driven on a lot, and that’s something that we’ve recognized. We watched a lot of film on it. And just our positioning off the ball, as well. And I think with me that lateral movement was something that I definitely needed to work on. Just staying in front of my [defensive assignment]. And we talked about...you need to take your matchup personally and that’s when you play your best defense when you don’t want the person in front of you to score.”
It’s not just about the defense, though. Barnes doesn’t want Loville to be just a perimeter player. She thinks the inside game has to be part of the equation for Loville to be her best.
“I’m gonna have her post up and do different things that she hasn’t done but she is capable of doing,” Barnes said. “She has the body to do it. She wants to do it, and I’m going to challenge her to get better. And she’s going to get better here. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”