Prior to Saturday's game at UW-Green Bay, Rich could not have been much colder from the field. Through six games, she was shooting a balmy 16 of 66 from the floor (24.2 percent).
Never gun-shy, Rich set a Kohl Center record with 13 three-point attempts in one game in the Badgers' season-opening loss to Northern Illinois. She made four, part of a 5 of 19 shooting performance. Rich followed the opener with the following lines: 2 of 9, 1 of 7, 2 of 12 and 2 of 11 before beginning to find the net with a 4 of 8 day against Iowa State Dec. 7.
Against the Phoenix Rich connected on 4 of 8 three-point shots, scoring 16 of her team-high 19 points in the first half, helping the Badgers improve to 4-3 this season.
Time will tell whether Saturday's performance was a turning point or simply a shot in the arm, but thankfully for Rich and her Wisconsin teammates, there is far more to basketball than putting the ball in the hoop.
Rich leads the Big Ten and is seventh nationally in assists, averaging 7.29 per game. The 5-foot-11 junior is also tied for fourth in the Big Ten in steals (2.43) and even led the Badgers in blocks after the first five games this season.
"Right now that confidence in her shot's coming back in but she's leading the Big Ten in assists," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. "I think every game and every day Stephanie Rich gets better at being a scoring point guard."
Recruited to play shooting guard or small forward by former UW coach Jane Albright, circumstance pushed Rich to the point position, where she has become the consummate floor leader. Rich does a little bit of everything on the floor, and makes her teammates better in the process.
"What I tell her is you want to be somebody that on the scouting report says, ‘very difficult to guard,'" Stone said. "Are you a driver? Are you a shooter? We want you to be so complete it is unbelievable and Steph's getting there."
Rich was pressed into the point guard role last season after injuries to Ashley Josephson and Shawna Nicols and the academic ineligibility of Candas Smith depleted the guard ranks. Nicols and freshman Kandace Evans were slated to take over the point guard duties prior to this season. Nicols, however, was unable to play due to multiple head injuries. Evans, meanwhile, has filled in nicely as a reserve point guard, averaging 16.1 minutes per game.
As it turned out, Josephson has proven better suited for the shooting guard role, with her ability to get open and knock down clutch shots. The sophomore is shooting 45 percent from behind the arc and is averaging 12.4 points per game, just three-tenths of a point behind senior center Emily Ashbaugh for the team lead.
"Ashley came in and I'm sure she played more of point guard in high school and thought she was going to play point guard in college, but she has just become such a great two guard that we can't have her wasting that at the point guard," Rich said.
Rich, meanwhile, has become one of the best point guards in the Big Ten, whether or not she consistently finds her shooting touch. As a sophomore, Rich led Wisconsin in points (11.6 per game), assists (3.07) and steals (2.46). Through seven games this season, her scoring has slipped to 10.1 points per game, but she has more than made up for it with her floor leadership and command of Stone's offense. Rich's 3.46 turnovers per game are still a bit on the high side, but her uncanny ability to zip passes to open teammates has resulted in a nearly 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"I'm not the quickest ‘one' in the Big Ten, but I feel like I'm a really good leader on this team and that the rest of the team feels like I can do it," Rich said.
Rich has also been a leader with her defense. She is quick enough to defend guards and strong enough to defend the typical small forward. Despite playing on a starting five that includes the tallest forwards in the Big Ten in 6-7 Lello Gebisa, 6-5 Ashbaugh and 6-3 Ebba Gebisa, Rich is currently second on the team with seven blocks.
While Rich's shot has been off for much of this season, opponents cannot simply play the pass. Rich is shooting 30.4 percent from behind the arc and is adept at driving to the lane and creating opportunities for herself and her teammates. In addition, she has made 15 of 16 free throws this season, missing for the first time versus UW-Green Bay (5 of 6).
"If people were worried that when I shot the ball it wasn't going to go in then my confidence would be low but I have the greatest teammates in the world and a great coaching staff that just believe that if you keep shooting it will go in," Rich said.
"We're proud of her," Stone said. "She has made amazing improvements. Everybody looks at what she was from the outside. Her numbers are going to go up offensively along with the assists and steals."