Alex Harden’s statistics show the rise of a player capable of dominating the Missouri Valley Conference.
Through four conference games, all Wichita State wins, Harden is averaging 18.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.8 steals, and 2.0 blocks, which ranks her in the top five of each category in the MVC.
But when Harden and the Shockers, riding a 12-game winning streak, take on Drake at 3:30 p.m. Monday inside Koch Arena, WSU head coach Jody Adams will be asking for more.
“I know we see big numbers from Alex,” Adams said, “but I think the expectations of being a preseason Player of the Year make you, as a coach, continue to force her out of her box and have her game continue to grow.”
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The scary notion for the rest of the conference is that Harden isn’t just filling the stat sheet. She’s become the voice her teammates need on the court. She’s making the pass that creates the opportunity for the pass that ends up counting as the assist. She’s depriving opponents of their best scorer with her defending.
In Harden’s three years, Wichita State has improved with each season and there is a direct correlation. Simply put, Harden has been a program-altering player — and she’s just a junior.
“What she does for us on the court is unmeasurable,” Adams said. “Her IQ is one of the best I’ve ever coached. She’s thinking on a level that you’re thinking of as a coach, which makes her extremely special. She’s not just special to the coaching staff, but she’s special to her teammates because she elevates their games as well.”
There are stretches where Harden, a pass-first player at heart, is too passive. She passes on an open jump shot to rotate it to a teammate open for a three-pointer, or looks for a dump-off pass when she could be looking to finish on drives.
While Harden is extremely efficient around her current quota of 12 shots per game, Adams would like to bump that number up closer to 15.
“It’s a challenge for me sometimes,” Harden said. “I’m always looking for shots for my teammates, but they’ve talked to me about taking the shot when it’s open. It is kind of a balance you have to find.”
How many points could Harden score if she took 18 shots a game? It’s not an answer Harden or Adams is too curious to find out.
While her scoring average would surely increase, the balance of her game would be thrown off. A large reason why Harden is so effective is because she picks and chooses her shots carefully, while being a distributor on offense.
It’s a style that has produced 22 wins in the last 25 games against MVC competition, dating back to last season.
“I think Alex is taking her game to another level,” Adams said. “When she does that, our entire team plays at another level. In the last few days, I believe this team has taken it to another level with the chemistry.”