Alliya Butts could only think about one thing.
After losing 66-58 in overtime to West Virginia University in the 2015 Women’s National Invitation Tournament semifinals.
“I thought, ‘What can we do next year with more people and more depth?” Butts said. “I want to be a better leader and a better point guard for my team.”
The sophomore guard, who averaged a team-high 12.3 points per game last season, steps into the lead guard role this season after Tyonna Williams graduated last spring. Williams led the Owls in assists in 2014-15 with 124.
Butts already has some experience leading the offense. She started the team’s final 25 games last season after coming off the bench in the Owls’ first 12 contests.
“It’s not easy coming from high school to college because it is a whole different atmosphere, and the game is so different,” Butts said. “I had to adjust. It took me a while.”
The Edgewater Park, New Jersey native credits her successful transition from high school to college to Williams and junior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald.
“They helped weigh in and show me what it takes to compete at this level,” Butts said. “I respect that, and I thank them for that.”
Last season, Butts collected 76 assists, 72 steals and two blocks. She totaled six games with five or more assists and 18 games with one or fewer assists.
Williams totaled five or more assists seven times and failed to record more than one assist in five of the team’s 37 games.
“I need to be the point guard and make the plays,” Butts said. “And I need to lead defensively as well as on the offensive end.”
After her inaugural NCAA season, Butts earned an invitation to train at the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Championship Team Trials in Colorado Springs, Colorado for four days.
There, Butts received guidance from former Owls’ and current South Carolina coach Dawn Staley.
“It was a huge learning experience, and I got to see how they play,” Butts said. “I can bring that back here and learn from them like working on defense.”
Butts played 899 minutes last season, the fifth highest on the team. Fitzgerald said the biggest difference in Butts this year is her fitness.
“Last year, she wasn’t making sprints and stuff,” Fitzgerald said. “She came a long way. Last year it was like, ‘Come on Alliya, what are you doing? Get your head together.’ Now she is a totally different player. She’s ready.”
Last season, Butts shot 33.3 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line, fourth and second highest on the team, respectively. She also led the team in scoring nine times.
“She is a better shooter and a better player because she is working on her game, trying to help everyone else,” Fitzgerald said. “She has a lot to develop on, but she has done good so far.”
The aggressive style the sophomore brings to the court is the reason why coach Tonya Cardoza is having Butts call the plays and control the game with Fitzgerald.
“She plays like a guy in a sense,” Cardoza said. “Some of the things she does on the court just wow you. It is not her trying to show off, it’s just what she does and how she plays.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.