“I think I fell in love with the game again, to be honest,” Michigan State women's basketball junior guard Alyza Winston said. “I wouldn't say I fell out of love, but it was tough, freshman year, coming in and not playing much and then sophomore year, (it was) like, 'OK, I'm getting it, it's coming back a little bit,' but it still wasn't good enough for me because I have goals and I want to accomplish them.”
Over the summer in the offseason, Winston said she worked hard in the gym.
And last night, in the Spartans season opener at home against Morehead State, it paid off when she shot seven-for-12 from the field and three-for-seven from the beyond the arc for 20 points and a career-high six steals.
“If you're going to be a really good player at this level, and be considered as a good player, I think you have to be consistent and I think she has really embraced that,” MSU Head Coach Suzy Merchant said of Winston.
Merchant challenged the junior guard throughout last season as they needed a guard to complement senior star guard Nia Clouden, so Winston took it upon herself to work on her game.
“She's worked hard on her game this offseason,” Merchant said. “Her motor is better and she recognizes that defensively she could be better, so she's really invested herself in that side of the ball. Her speed alone is spectacular. ... and her ability to guard the ball is really good. She's done a great job of working herself into understanding defensive rotations off the ball. ... This year I can see that growth and maturity in her.”
Last year, Winston finished second on the team in scoring after starting in 16 of 23 games. She shot 42.3% from the field, 36.4% from beyond the arc and 71.4% from the line for an average of 11.1 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.
She's taken the initiative this year to bring the energy to the team defensively and offensively and, in her mind, being in "basketball shape" has been the one thing that's aided in this feat.
“The biggest difference for me this year, as opposed to freshman and sophomore year, would be that (I look at) every practice as another opportunity to play basketball, ... to compete and just go hard in every single play regardless of if I feel like being there... well, I don't ever feel like not being there, but if I'm tired one day, didn't get as much sleep,” Winston said. “The only way to get in basketball shape is by playing basketball.”
With junior forward Julia Ayrault and senior forward Tory Ozment on injury reserve, it's up to Winston to lead the newcomers in Spartan successes.
If she keeps playing how she did last night, she may become one of the top performers on the team next to Clouden, in more ways than just points posted on the board.
“I wouldn't say I fell out of love, but it's definitely stronger now than it's ever been, even in high school and. ... I have a completely different outlook on it. I could talk all day about (my development),” Winston said.
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