SHARPSHOOTER

Whenever Paige Littrell gets on a little bit of a roll from 3-point range, defenses tend to clamp down on her in an attempt to limit her scoring opportunities.

That’s happened a lot during the past three years, and by now, the Columbus North senior is used to it. And she’s not letting it bother her.

“People see that she has some big games, and then they step out on her and make it really tough,” North coach Pat McKee said. “Hopefully, then some others step up and score. People are seeing and hearing about that (Terre Haute South) game, so Paige is being more heavily guarded. When she is heavily guarded, she understands that, she makes a read and gets the ball to the right person.”

In that win against Terre Haute South, Littrell went 6 of 6 from the field, including 5 for 5 from 3-point range, to score 17 points — in the first quarter. She didn’t take a shot the final three quarters.

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Other teams have obviously gotten the message that Littrell can shoot. East Central limited her to two points on 1-of-4 shooting Thursday in a 46-44 Bull Dogs victory.

“It’s pretty frustrating, especially like (Thursday) night because they face-guarded me the entire night,” Littrell said. “But I think it opens up opportunities for other people. (Thursday) night, Maliah (Howard-Bass) and Ashlyn (Huffman) got a lot more shots than they usually do.”

With her 8.0 scoring average, Littrell ranks third on the team behind juniors Howard-Bass (16.7) and Imani Guy (8.7). Huffman averages 7.9.

“I’d say it’s definitely different from last year,” Littrell said. “Last year, Ali (Patberg) would always be the one that’s driving and kicking out. This year, we have different players stepping up and doing that for me. Ashlyn does a great job of driving to the basket and if she gets stopped, she does a good job of passing it out to me.”

That’s fine with Littrell, who is attempting to fill some of the scoring void left by Patberg, who was last year’s Miss Basketball. But Littrell also is becoming more of a complete player.

“I would say my role has changed a lot, too,” Littrell said. “I’m not just a 3-point shooter this year. I have to be more aggressive than I was last year. Last year, Ali was our go-to for everything, and this year, other players have to step up, and I think I’m one of those players.”

Although her 3-point shooting percentage is down from 47 percent last year to 38 percent this season, Littrell ranks second on this year’s squad with 3.4 assists and 2.4 steals and fourth with 4.3 rebounds.

“Paige brings a lot of high quality in other areas,” McKee said. “A lot of it transcends numbers and boxscores. A lot of it has to do with invisible things that you can’t see in a boxscore, and it’s off the court — talking to kids, making sure we’re on the same page.”

Defense is one of the areas in which Littrell has picked up her game the past couple of years.

“Defensively, she’s always in the right spot,” McKee said. “She really understands what we’re doing defensively.”

The 5-foot-10 guard also set a goal to get to the free-throw line more this year.

“Paige is a very well-rounded, excellent player,” McKee said. “I think her basketball IQ and attention to detail is similar (to the past couple years), but I think she understands that she is a senior and has to be more in charge and take some more risks and be a little bit more aggressive in her play. She’s being a little bit more assertive in things she does.”

Littrell, whose father Jody played college basketball at Butler, is planning to play at the next level. She has her choices narrowed down to DePauw and Hanover and could possibly also play tennis at one of those schools.

This season has been injury free for Littrell, who sprained her left ankle in last year’s Class 4A state championship game victory against Homestead at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She rolled the ankle again in a summer game but has recovered to help lead North to a 7-0 record heading into tonight’s game against Seymour and Thursday’s battle against Columbus East.

“I don’t remember a single minute of that state game,” Littrell said. “When I was playing it, I was focused, and I was trying to do the right stuff, but my foot hurt so bad the entire game.”

If you go

What: Columbus East vs. Columbus North girls basketball

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Columbus North High School

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.