HAMPTON — Olivia Allen admits that she wondered if she'd made a terrible mistake. After transferring to Hampton University for her final two years, she was frustrated and lost as she attempted to learn the system among veteran teammates.
But Allen also is patient and observant. Fortunately for her and the Pirates, those qualities overrode her disappointment.
Hampton's senior guard has emerged offensively in recent weeks, as the Lady Pirates (19-5, 10-0 MEAC) have won 10 in a row heading into Monday's game at 4:30 p.m. against rival Norfolk State.
"She's a good shooter and a tremendous athlete," HU coach David Six said. "She gives us some balance and opens things up for other players."
Allen averaged 17.8 points in the past seven games, which has goosed her scoring average to 11.2 points per game — the fourth HU player in double figures, along with Keiara Avant, Nicole Hamilton and Alyssa Bennett.
Allen is shooting 43.7 percent from the field during that stretch, and a lofty 47 percent from 3-point range. She has started the past five games, averaging 37 minutes, and HU has won those five by an average of 21 points.
But Allen's work on defense allowed her to get on the floor, as well as a tough break that worked to her advantage.
After transferring from Bradley following her sophomore year, she found herself behind a pair of effective and efficient upperclass guards. She struggled with Six's defensive system, which stifled her athletic ability.
"I had no clue what I was doing," Allen said. "It was a whole different system. I had to re-learn everything. I went back to my old habits and had a really difficult time. But I stuck with it, and over the summer, I finally got it."
Allen, a superb athlete, was a state-caliber sprinter in high school in Illinois, clocking 11.7 seconds for 100 meters and 24.3 seconds for 200 meters. She is easily the Lady Pirates' fastest player. Pound for pound, she's also one of HU's strongest players, capable of squatting 255 pounds.
"She could not figure out our defensive concepts," Six said. "She'd say, 'This isn't how we did it at Bradley.' I'd tell her, 'You're not at Bradley any more.'"
The Lady Pirates were dealt a blow when projected point guard Lauren Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury before the start of the season. Six moved Hamilton, a natural wing guard, to point guard. That opened the wing position and playing time for Allen.
Allen showed flashes early in the season, notably with an 18-point game against Savannah State on Dec. 3. But in that game, she also took a nasty blow to the head as she drove for a layup. She was diagnosed with a concussion and couldn't hear out of her right ear for three weeks.
She missed the next four games, returning Dec. 30 against Virginia Tech. But she said that it took her a couple more weeks to get comfortable and back to 100 percent. She said that when she drove to the basket, she anticipated contact and reflexively moved her head to the side, which affected her shooting percentage.
When Six simplified the Lady Pirates' schemes midway through the season, it played to Allen's strengths.
"I didn't have to think as much," she said. "I could just play."
Allen began her double-figure scoring binge Jan. 19 against Morgan State, coming off the bench for 15 points. She posted career-highs of 22 points each of her next two games, against Coppin State and Norfolk State. She poured in 25 points against Coppin on Feb. 4, in a 68-59 win.
Her recent exploits earned special attention last Monday versus Delaware State. The Hornets employed a box-and-one, with a defender face-guarding her while the other four played a zone defense. At times, they also played a triangle-and-two, with Allen and Bennett drawing man-to-man coverage.
"I couldn't get the ball," said Allen, who still managed 10 points in HU's 75-56 win. "It was difficult. The girl was right in front of me the whole time. She wasn't even watching the ball."
"It's good for her to get different looks," Six said.
"I'm going to have to work harder to get open," Allen said.
Allen's scoring has created opportunities and space for Avant, Bennett and Hamilton, since opponents can't sag off of her or leave her open. Not that she's stat-conscious or feels the need to take a certain number of shots.
"I like to be a team player," she said. "I don't want to be a ball hog. It's a team game. As long as my teammates are succeeding and we're winning, I'm down with that."
•Norfolk State (5-17, 3-8 MEAC) at Hampton (19-5, 10-0), 4:30 p.m., ESPNU
•Norfolk State (16-0, 11-0) at Hampton (10-13, 7-3), 7 p.m., ESPNUCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times