If for some reason you’re under the impression that female athletes don’t get caught up in the game and have spontaneous expressions of emotion during particularly dominant moments like that, perhaps watching University Washington center Laura McLellan will change your mind.
The senior has maintained all season that she doesn’t mind the transition to the bench and yesterday afternoon against Arizona, she showed that her inspired play off the bench can be a vital to UW’s success.
After going scoreless in the first half, she catalyzed a game-changing 17-2 second half run that lasted almost five minutes in Washington’s 69-59 win against the University of Arizona, moving them to a surprising 3-1 in conference play.
With UW down 40-33 with 15:26 left in the second half, McLellan triggered and punctuated the run with strong moves around the basket. She had 13 points during the big second half run and perhaps none bigger than two straight possessions that began with 7:02 left.
At the 7:02 mark, she drew a fourth foul on Arizona star forward Ife Ibekwe that helped limit Ibekwe’s defensive impact the rest of the way. She followed that up with one of the best moments of the afternoon.
After receiving the ball on the left wing with the crowd already behind her, she drove down the left side of the lane, went up and under Arizona guard Davellyn White with a double pump move, and drew contact as she scored a layup off the backboard to put the Huskies team up by 5 with 6:27 left. After the whistle blew, she let out a yell and pumped her fist to punctuate a huge shift of momentum that saw the Huskies transition from down 6 to up 1 at that point en route to the win.
“Just getting an ‘and one’ you just feel like you can do anything, like you can make anything,” said McLellan, who finished with 15 points on 5-10 shooting and 6 rebounds. “Anytime you touch the ball you just feel like you’re unstoppable. So just having that and doing that it opened up a lot of my teammates so we were able to really move the ball well.”
The energy gained from the offensive end translated into defensive intensity for McLellan.
With the crowd anxious to get involved in the game, the Huskies turned up the defensive intensity during a two minute stretch starting at 9:27 with a Kristi Kingma steal off a lazy inbounds pass from Arizona center Soana Lucet. They caused a turnover or blocked a shot on 4 of the next 5 Arizona possessions to take the lead, 49-48.
McLellan got one of those blocks, swatting a driving layup attempt from star freshman guard Davellyn Whyte into the third row with 8:17 left. On that “fifth” possession, McLellan was whistled for a foul on what could have easily been called a block.
“Even with blocks and charges and you’re seeing the ref make that call and it energizes the whole team – it can energize the whole team and change the momentum,” said McLellan. “You just get so pumped up. I can’t even tell you -- I don’t even think I said a word, I just screamed.”
There is no way to truly quantify the impact of the energy created by McLellan’s inspired play, but it’s hard to deny the impact it had on the game.
“She was getting their bigs in foul trouble then they finally had to back off and then I think everybody got a little piece of them inside,” said Jackson. “She was rebounding well.”
Yet while Jakcson occasionally takes McLellan out of the game just to "cool off", she also recognizes the value of it to her game.
"I love it and I’m not going to take it away from her,” said Jackson of McLellan’s passion.
However, basketball does require a team to actually put the all in the basket. So for all that McLellan did to give the team a boost emotionally with her second half spurt, it was guard Kristi Kingma that produced most consistently throughout the game.
Kingma finding a rhythm
Earlier in the season, Jackson attributed Kingma’s shooting struggles to coming off the bench and needing to let the game come to her. Rather than doing anything specific as a coach, she suggested that Kingma would figure it out by herself.
“I think our team has struggled a little bit,” said Jackson on a late November media day in response to a question about Kingma’s early season slump, in which she shot 9-33 (27%) through UW’s first 5 games. “As far as the individual player, just to take her time, take shots within her rhythm. One of the tough things for any player is to come into the game – she comes off the bench for us – is to come into a game and your first shot is a three. That’s tough – you’re asking a lot. And especially when it’s a contested three.
“So we just try to look at the video, make sure the kids understand [to] try to get shots in rhythm, get up and down the floor a little bit, and let the game come to you and try not to force the action too much.”
Although Kingma only shot 6-17 for the game, during a two minute period in the first half yesterday, it certainly looked as though she is starting to find a rhythm, now starting in place of Sara Mosiman.
“I felt really good before the game, I felt relaxed, I took a nice bath last night,” said Kingma. “My legs were feeling good and we just had a lot of energy today.”
After getting herself started from the free throw line after a driving baseline jumper attempt with 16:58 left in the first half, Kingma seemed to find a zone. Kingma hit three jumpers in a row off the dribble over the course of approximately one minute (from 15:54 to 14:45), single-handedly leading UW on an 8-0 run to take an early 12-6 lead.
Kingma has one of those shots that “feels” on target every single time she shoots it, despite statistics to the contrary – she has beautiful form, a consistent release, and a nice arc. One thing that was notable about her performance yesterday afternoon was that she looks more comfortable in finding her rhythm.
“Probably more off the dribble, especially when I know that we’re coming off screen off ball and they’re chasing – that gives me a lot more leeway,” said Kingma of whether she feels more comfortable shooting off the dribble. “But I guess just whatever comes.”
However, while Jackson suggested letting the game come to her would help and Kingma indeed said she just takes whatever comes, what was most impressive about yesterday’s performance was her aggression in creating scoring opportunities for herself.
Although she only shot 3-14 the rest of the game after her early first half run, she had a season-high 17 shots and – most impressive -- got to free throw line 16 times for an astounding free throw rate of 94.11%.
Huskies finding options to complement Whitcomb
With senior guard Sami Whitcomb struggling to create offense for herself -- scoring 9 points on 2-9 shooting after a standout performance against Arizona State University of Thursday – Kingma’s aggression was absolutely vital to their success. Really it’s one thing that’s been consistent during their 3 game winning streak in the Pac-10.
While Whitcomb and forward Mackenzie Argens have been the headliners so far in conference play, Kingma has been right there as a significant supporting cast member. The increased aggression has shown up in her free throw rate in all three wins: she’s had a free throw rate of over 85% for the last three games, which for the most part has meant that she’s attacking the basket more. Her production at the line is one of the main reasons that she’s averaging 18 ppg in these last three wins compared to the x ppg she tallied in non-conference play.
For UW, Kingma’s recent performance is significant for two reasons: first it shows that UW has yet another reliable scorer to support Whitcomb and second it demonstrates that this is a team that can look to multiple weapons to use as the circumstances and opponents change.
- The Huskies have maintained that they are a strong defense and that was a major key in yesterday’s game as well as Thursday’s win against Arizona State. In yesterday’s game, Arizona went almost 15 minutes (from 15:26 – 00:52) without making a field goal). Even though the Huskies didn’t shoot particularly well as a team – 33% for the game – they were able to make up for it by holding Arizona to 23.3% shooting in the second half.
- Usage rate – the percentage of plays a player “uses” when they are on the court -- is one interesting way to look at UW’s performance in the Pac-10. During non-conference play, center Regina Rogers had the highest usage rate at 28.83% followed by Whitcomb (22.87%), injured guard Sara Mosiman (20.89%), Argens (20.19%), and Kingma (17.03%).
In their three Pac-10 wins, things have been much different: although Rogers did have a usage rate of 32.04% in their Oregon State win, she only played 9 minutes, meaning Kingma’s 26.37% was more significant. Against Arizona State, Whitcomb was pretty much a one-woman show with a usage rate of 35.63%, with the next closest person point guard Christina Rozier at 21.89%. Against Arizona, Kingma had a usage rate of 34.60% with the next closest of significance being McLellan at 22.73%.
So what does all that mean? In conference play, Kingma has not only taken a larger role in the offense, but UW has been a bit more of a perimeter oriented team…and it’s working. While Argens, McLellan, and Rogers are effective in the post at times, the strength of this team still appears to be their perimeter game when it comes to actually winning games.