Jan. 23, 2014
By John Lock
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois women's basketball player Azia Washington has stepped up her game just when the team needed her most.
The Salukis have lost three of their top players -- Cartaesha Macklin, Rishonda Napier and Alexus Patterson -- for the season. For a time it appeared the only reliable scoring option left would be forward Dyana Pierre, but things started clicking for Washington late in the non-conference season.
In the first six games of the year, the sophomore guard didn't score more than eight points. In the last eight games, though, she's scored in double-figures five times and averaged 15.0 points.
It's not just her offense that has impressed first-year coach Cindy Stein.
"She's usually guarded the best player on the other team," Stein said. "She does a good job shutting kids down, and she's given us that scoring and rebounding production, too."
Without Macklin and Napier, Washington has been moved to the back court for the first time in her career. When teams have tried to shut down Pierre by converging on her, Washington has stepped up and made shots.
"Azia makes people pay for not concentrating on her," Stein said.
Teammate Sidney Goins added, "She has that attack mindset. When other teams send double- and triple-teams to Dyana, Azia calls for the ball. She has great vision off the ball."
While Pierre has remained the team's No. 1 option, averaging 13.8 points and 9.1 rebounds to lead the team and be among the MVC leaders, Washington has emerged as the consistent No. 2 scorer on the team. Washington herself has become one of the best rebounders in the conference, averaging 7.1 rebounds to rank eighth in the Valley.
With her scoring and rebounding on the rise, Washington has also picked up her vocal leadership. Without Macklin, arguably the team's most vocal leader, Washington stepped up there, too.
"She's really vocal, which we really need," Stein said. "We need a leader on the floor. Azia is one that will embrace that. She's one that will do whatever it takes to help the team; if she has to talk more, she's going to do it. She wants to win, and it shows."
That vocal leadership isn't new to Washington, but her vocal leadership is new to the team.
"In my past teams, I was always a vocal leader," Washington said. "Coming in here as a young player, I just wanted to sit down and see where I fit in. Now that I'm a little older, I feel like I can help the freshmen and even players older than me."
Washington and the Salukis' next matchup comes against Evansville on Sunday at 2 p.m.