Washington Huskies guard Kristi Kingma is one of those players whose shooting motion is so smooth that every shot looks like it's going in.
"Kristi's just really fun to play with," said point guard Sarah Morton after UW's 59-40 win over Western Michigan tonight. "I've got a lot of confidence in her, especially when she's coming off a screen - we have a pretty good non-verbal communication."
Yet in one sense, Kingma's game-high 25 point performance against Western Michigan tonight was out of the ordinary. Her 20 points in the first half set a new career-high for scoring in a half and in hitting double figures in her eighth consecutive game tonight she did something no UW player did last season.
And after tonight's performance, it might be safe to say that Kingma is establishing herself as the early season favorite for best pure shooter in the Pac-10.
"She was hot this game, to say the least," said Morton.
"18 points a game - she's hot every game," added UW coach Tia Jackson.
"You're right," said Morton adjusting her response. "She was hot - in the very beginning she was on fire."
The fact that she has been scoring in double figures in eight consecutive games obviously means that her teammates are coming to expect this type of scoring from the junior guard.
UW statistical MVP: Kristi Kingma contributes more than points in second half
"She can do that on any given night," said Jackson. "I think she had an exceptional game. She's a true, true leader on every level. I think Morty did a great job finding her. I think her teammates did a great job finding her. It was nothing like we were running anything for Kristi - it was just within our offense."
And it's not only that Kingma shot an efficient 9-for-17 from the field - including 3-for-7 from beyond the arc - but how she did found ways to score within the offense. It appears as though with each game she's finding new ways to create space for those shots.
"She's scoring in many ways," said Jackson. "She's getting to the free throw line, she's shooting wide open shots, she's taking it off the dribble, recognizing when she's got a mismatch out there and there's a larger player on her that maybe has slower feet than a quicker guard. She recognizes that very well."
In addition to teammates finding Kingma open for spot up threes, she used a combination of pull up jumpers and changes of direction when receiving the ball on the wing to torch Western Michigan for a career-best 20 points in the first half. There's nothing terribly explosive or flashy about how she gets open, often using one or two dribbles from the wing to the elbow to create enough space to pull up for a jumper while maintaining the same form as she displays when spotting up wide open.
And in saying that Kingma is carrying the team, it's not only scoring that she's doing - although she only scored 5 points in the second half, she also had a team-high 3 steals and 2 assists. She finished with a team-high 7 rebounds in accounting for nearly 40% of the team's overall statistical production.
"Practices have definitely been limited with limited numbers," said Kingma. "I'm kinda just learning by example, I guess, but I'm learning how to be a leader and for me that means...taking the scoring load on, I guess I'm trying to do that a little more. But I guess I'm just trying to get out off the jump and be aggressive and basically just trying to show my team where to go and hoping that they'll follow."
And a large chunk of the rest of that production came from Sarah Morton.
Key player: Sarah Morton gives Kingma an assist with Huskies playing shorthanded
With Morton shouldering the burden of just over 25% of the team's overall production, the team's backcourt shouldered the majority of the burden for their win tonight. Part of that is certainly the upperclassmen just stepping up and taking the lead, with the backcourt also contributing 12 rebounds between them.
"I think we were just really hungry and really going after it," said Morton, who scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting and had a game-high 5 assists to go with 5 rebounds. "Of course a key is to box out and get after it like there's money on the ball, like Coach J says."
But part of that is also a matter of the team being decimated by injuries, with freshman point guard Mercedes Wetmore
After shooting 4-for-21 in the first half of last week's loss to UC Riverside, the Washington Huskies were happy to be on the other side of things in tonight's game against the Western Michigan Broncos.
"To credit Coach J, I think this week in practice we did such a great job - we didn't do any little minor drills; all we did was execution," said Kingma. "We did 5-on-5, half-court and full-court and brought the white squad guys in who are never easy and just working on that all week. And I think that really gave us a chance to be successful tonight."
Nevertheless, they came out with much better energy tonight which helped them to build an advantage that allowed them to coast to victory.
Key statistic: Huskies outshoot the Broncos in the first half
As great an offensive display as Kingma put on, this was hardly the prettiest game on the whole and with only 1,577 fans in attendance, Hec Edmundson Pavilion wasn't exactly rocking - it's hard to imagine more that the crowd present for the National Anthem was anywhere near four figures and the energy was just sort of flat at tip-off.
And after lacking energy to start last week's game against UC Riverside and shooting 4-for-21, UW made sure to come out with better energy tonight and it showed up most prominently in their 46.2% (12-26) shooting percentage. But it also translated to doing to WMU what UCR did to them.
"We really came out with a lot of energy and focus, especially on defense," said Morton. "Just knowing their personnel really helped us build our offense by getting steals or getting rebounds and being able to kick it out to run our stuff. Definitely defense was a focus."
WMU turned the ball over on 21% of their first half possessions while UW only turned it over 10% of theirs and that helped them establish their 35-14 halftime lead. However, one thing they'll need to work on for conference play - as well as Thursday's game against Georgia Tech - is maintaining that energy level.
"We made it an emphasis this week to come out in the first half because obviously we did not do that against Riverside," said Kingma. "But we kinda had a letdown at halftime and that's definitely something we'll have to work on because Georgia Tech is gonna be aggressive the whole game."
After establishing control of the game in the first half, UW sort of coasted to victory getting outscored by WMU in the second half 26-24 and turning the ball over 11 times (36.66% of their possessions). And despite a strong rebounding performance from the guards, it didn't take much for Kingma to admit that even that is an area of improvement in addition to just finding consistent effort.
"We were able to outrebound Western Michigan, but UCLA and Arizona and Stanford, they're just gonna dominate the boards," said Kingma.
And given how poorly WMU played, it was a team they probably should have put away.
WMU statistical MVP: Brenna Bankston moves into ninth in all-time three pointers made
To put in perspective how poorly WMU played overall, forward Brenna Bankston scored 9 of her 11 total points in the first half with 3 three pointers - quickly getting the two threes she needed to become ninth all-time in three point shooting at Western Michigan - then essentially disappeared in the second half, and still finished with about 40% of her team's overall statistical contributions.
In other words, her teammates didn't do much to support Bankston overall.
But in the second half, things did change - guard Taylor Manley scored all 11 of her points in the second half to tie Bankston for the team lead, shooting 3-for-5 from the three point line, while forward Ebony Cleary scored all five of her points in the second half.
Given their poorly played first half, part of WMU's second half performance was definitely that shots (and in many cases layups) just started falling; they were 2-for-19 from two point range in the first half. But the other part is that Washington's defense let up a bit.
Injuries are definitely threatening this team again this year in their seemingly constant search for an identity. But with Georgia Tech coming up before traveling to UCLA to being their conference schedule, Washington could be looking at a long season if they don't find a way to play more consistently.
Or they could return to full health - particularly when center Regina Rogers gets healthy - and surprise some people.
"I think that as soon as our team comes together - no more injuries - I think that we may just surprise some people," said Kingma. "Looking at our team right now, we have 7, maybe 8, healthy players. And most Pac-10 teams have 11, 12. And that wears on you. So I think as long as we keep progressing and getting healthy, I think we'll be able to surprise some people."