Freshman Grace under fire

Freshman Shantia Grace has been thrown into the fire this season, but no one has come out hotter.

The freshman point guard has become a second scoring threat to complement the nation’s leading scorer – forward Jessica Dickson – despite being thrust into the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. Grace has made a steady progression in both generating and running the offense by moving into second in the Big East in assists per game (4.96) and scoring in double figures in seven of the last nine games.

“Shantia was thrown into the fire, but I don’t think of her as a freshman anymore,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “She’s really started to come into her own, and her confidence on offense has helped her to be more assertive.”

How well Grace has handled the pressure can be attributed to the rise in her confidence on the court and when she has the ball in her hands.

“I’m more comfortable with shooting the ball now, and my confidence is better because my teammates have encouraged me to shoot more,” Grace said. “It was all about my confidence in the second half of the season.”

Grace has quickly earned the respect of some of the veterans on the team with her poise on the court. Dickson and senior forward Ezria Parsons have been two big reasons for the progression of Grace this season.

“I tell her to keep shooting, keep playing hard and never back down,” Parsons said. “She has the offense in her game and has stepped up, and we need her down the stretch.”

Grace, however, has spent many hours in the film room working on the mental side of the game. She has also spent time working on her jump shot and free-throw shooting, which has paid off as of late.

Grace is shooting 39 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free-throw line along with 28 percent from behind the arc.

Dickson, who leads the nation in scoring at 23 points per game, has welcomed Grace’s offensive success in the past nine games. Grace is taking some of the pressure of scoring off of Dickson and limiting the double teams. Grace even had the opportunity against Pittsburgh on Saturday to attempt a last-second shot to tie the game. Although she wasn’t able to sink the shot, Grace remains consistent and vows that she will keep taking those shots if she has the chance.

“It’s frustrating when I miss the shot because I want to win the game for our team,” Grace said. “It’s only a bad shot if you don’t take it, so as long as I can take the shot I will.”

A few shots here and there may be frustrating to Grace, but it’s clear – especially to her teammates – that she hasn’t shied away from anything the Bulls have asked of her.

“Her offensive game has developed, and she has come a long way this season,” Dickson said. “For her to come in and play as well as she has as a freshman speaks for itself.”