Junior shooting guard averaging more than 21 points a game

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BLOOMFIELD — Halle Payne understood she’d have to carry the load on the scoring end. Knowing the circumstances, she didn’t have much of a choice.

The Bloomfield shooting guard is the only returning starter from last year’s state runner-up squad, which lost eight graduating seniors. The players who replaced them this year had little to no varsity experience, so it was Payne’s time to take charge.

And she’s been up for the challenge, averaging 21.3 points per game through Thursday night.

“It’s really rewarding. Sometimes, it feels like ‘Whoa, I can’t miss.’ I never expected to average that many (points),” Payne, a junior and fourth-year starter, said. “I’d say I’ve embraced (that role) pretty well.”

Collectively, Bloomfield’s offense is averaging just 54 points a game through Thursday, making Payne’s presence attacking the basket even more important.

At 5-foot-10, she often creates mismatches driving down the outside lanes on the fast break.

“Usually, (opponents) don’t expect it until (I’m) already there. Then they don’t know what to do,” Payne said.

Payne, who also is trying to be more productive hitting contested shots, can use her strength and taller frame to simply force her way to the basket.

“She’s not going to force a bad shot. She’s going to take what’s there, which I love about her,” coach Tom Adair said. “She shoots the outside shot, she can go inside. She handles the ball well, she can break a press.”

Payne’s skill set fits the mold of Bloomfield’s offense, which revolves around fast-break scoring and pull-up jumpers.

Payne also is getting more involved as a passer, which is where her size comes in handy. She’s tall enough that she can easily find open teammates, even while being double-teamed by defenders. She’s also agile enough that she can create space and scan the floor quickly to make a play.

Payne is the anchor for an offense that lacked a breakout game prior to Thursday’s 81-74 overtime win over Tohatchi.

Over the long term, the issue for the Lady Bobcats will be whether the younger group can help lighten Payne’s workload significantly.

“It’s hard to find a balance. You don’t want to do everything, but at the same time, you have to do a lot to keep your team ready,” Payne said. “We’re young. We’re freshmen, sophomores. I wanted to step up, so I did. I’m setting an example so everyone follows me.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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