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Bales emerges as versatile threat

Coming out of high school, Alison Bales was a project. Now, she’s a basketball player.

After a rigorous off-season conditioning program, the sophomore center has transformed herself into one of the most intimidating shot-blocking forces in women’s college basketball.

Bales’ defensive potential was never in doubt. At 6-foot-7, she always has had the ability to block and alter shots around the basket. This season, however, Bales has rounded out her arsenal, strengthening many other parts of her game.

“I told Alison Bales at the end of last year that I thought, if she would dedicate herself, she’d be the most improved player in the ACC,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “She’s probably exceeded my expectations.”

In her sophomore campaign, Bales has significantly improved her defense, blocking more than three times as many shots per game. She redirects more shots than just the four she blocks each game.

“Not only does she blocks shots,” Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said after Duke’s win Jan. 17. “She alters six or seven shots—because of her size, a game. And if she doesn’t get credit for the block she should.”

One of the most important factors for post defenders is avoiding foul trouble, and Bales has excelled at that area this season. She is averaging just two fouls per contest and has yet to foul out of a game, an impressive feat for the nation’s third-leading shot-blocker.

Bales’ newfound athleticism has improved her game on the offensive side as well. Last season, Bales was a liability on the offensive end of the court, frequently struggling to make it up and down the floor with her teammates. As a result, she played less than 10 minutes per game, averaging four points and three rebounds and just one block per game.

“Strength is a big part of the college game,” Bales said. “It’s important when you’re a post player, especially, because you have to be so physical.”

Now, the stronger, slimmer Bales is an offensive threat, averaging 8.6 points and shooting 51 percent from the field.

“She’s really dedicated herself in the off-season,” Joseph said. “Now she’s in shape and she can keep pace with them. In the past she couldn’t.”

A new asset to Bales’ game this season is her ability to sink mid-range shots. Frequently this season, the Blue Devils have used Bales in the high post with forward Mistie Williams in the low post. When Bales can step out and hit a jumper, the defense must adjust, giving Williams space to operate inside.

“I think a huge thing for me, Coach G is always telling me, is offensive aggressiveness,” Bales said. “I seem to be more comfortable going face-up to the basket, instead of playing with my back to the basket like most post players tend to do, so [Goestenkors] had me do some different moves.”

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