Bryce Nixon is used to coming off the bench. That’s nothing new.
Yet, Tuesday night felt a little different.
With 5:21 left in the first quarter, UA coach Adia Barnes sent Nixon into the game first. She is the team’s proverbial “sixth man.”
The sophomore guard said she wasn’t expecting it, but said “I was ready.”
It seems she’s already ready. If she’s not at a practice, an individual skill session with her position coach, lifting, in class or studying, you can find Nixon getting in extra work on her own.
Nixon is usually the first player on the court before practice and almost always the last one to leave. Barnes talks often about the little things that matter and getting 1% better every day; Nixon sets the standard.
Nixon and her teammates will host Santa Clara (1-0) Friday night in McKale Center.
“Bryce does all the things that we value,” Barnes said. “We value being a great teammate. Our culture is the most important thing in this program. Bryce does all those things. So, to me it she earned that. She had an incredible offseason. She completely changed her body. … She does everything I ask. She works hard every day. She works extra every day. So, she deserves that and she’s earned every bit of that. So I have no problem giving her the first opportunities.”
The Wildcats lead the series 2-1 over the Broncos. The last time they played was in 1997-98, when Barnes — the team’s fourth-year coach — was a senior. The Wildcats won the NCAA Tournament game 75-63.
Nixon is known for being a confident shooter, but is working on other areas of her game. She did extra sprints and conditioning work in the offseason while adding more muscle to her frame. It’s something she takes pride in.
“I definitely feel a lot stronger. I think my body has changed a lot,” Nixon said. “Coach Adia also tells me how different I look. I’m really big on doing extra conditioning. If we have a practice we don’t really get up and down a lot (on the court), I usually do something extra afterwards or the next day to make up for that. …If you can out-run someone, there’s an edge.”
And Nixon is looking for any edge she can get. She knows playing time will be hard to come by this season, especially with the Wildcats boasting a deep bench.
“There are some people that are very hard to keep off the floor,” Barnes said. “And so when you when you do something so well, we have to play because you do that so well.”
That’s exactly why Nixon shored up her defense. She wants to be the type of player that Barnes has to keep on the floor. Against North Dakota, Nixon stayed on the court for more than 16 minutes.
“I want to be really good, so I’m going to put in the work to do it,” Nixon said.
Nixon also spends time studying her coaches and her teammates. She’s become more analytical, and can better understand what her coaches are looking for. When sh’e on the floor, Nixon has a better idea of where her teammates want the ball and how to make them more efficient.
Nixon laughed that there are 10 guards on the team —enough to provide Barnes with multiple groupings. She said the playing time battle is one of the reasons why she added a new move — a drive to the basket. It’s just one more thing that she hopes gives her an edge.
“I think that just my athletic drive and that competitive nature makes me want to continue to work hard all the time,” Nixon said. “If it’s a bad day, I don’t know, I’ve got to do it. I would just feel guilty if I didn’t. You know what I mean?
“I’m never going to stop working. That’s just who I am.”
- Aari McDonald