SEATTLE — The last time University of Washington women’s basketball player Kristi Kingma tried to fill shoes this big, they were soccer cleats.
Kingma is looking more and more like the heir apparent to senior Sami Whitcomb and her role of go-to scorer for the Huskies — in fact, Kingma has taken over top scoring honors in each of the past three games.
But when it comes to what Kingma might expect when Whitcomb is gone, the sophomore from Mill Creek leans on her experience in another sport.
“Playing soccer, I had the Gatorade Player of the Year, Dani Oster, on my team,” Kingma said of her sophomore season at Jackson High School. “So I got to score all these goals. And then she graduated, and all the attention went to me. It was kind of a tough learning year, my junior year in high school.”
While Kingma is likely to go through a similar experience in her junior year of college — Whitcomb is always the focus of opposing defenses — she has been getting the most out of playing in her older teammate’s shadow of late. Kingma has averaged 13.0 points over the past three games, leading the team in scoring in each of them. After getting shut out in a loss to Stanford on Feb. 12, Kingma hit double figures in each of the next three games.
“She’s just been aggressive,” head coach Tia Jackson said. “She’s playing within herself and within the scheme of what we’re trying to do out there and doing what she does best. She shoots the ball very well, shares the ball very well.”
Of course, a big reason for Kingma’s recent success has been a relatively clean bill of health — a rarity for her at UW. Sprained ankles, a concussion and even a kidney stone have kept her off the floor at times this season. It’s gotten to the point where Kingma feels plagued by the injury bug.
“It’s kind of an ongoing joke,” she said. “I just sprain my ankles going to class all the time.
“… My teammates make fun of me because I’m always tripping or being clumsy — not necessarily spraining ankles. People always ask me if I sprain my ankles walking down stairs because I always have a hurt ankle.”
Kingma missed the last meeting with this week’s opponent, Washington State, because of a concussion she suffered a week earlier. Kingma expected right up until game day to play against the Cougars, but team trainers ruled her out hours before tip-off.
“I found out not too much before the game, so it was tough,” said Kingma, who also missed a 2008-09 matchup with the Cougars because of a sprained ankle. “Washington State’s our rival team, and anytime you have a rivalry game, it’s that much tougher.”
Kingma is relieved to have a clean bill of health heading into Saturday’s game, as are the Huskies.
“She’s been playing tremendously,” Jackson said. “I remember after she came back after being out for a game or so (with the concussion), she wanted to be able to continue to build on her aggressive play, and she has done nothing but that. So we’re really excited about that.”
WSU coach June Daugherty is well aware of the effect Kingma can have on a game, even if she hasn’t seen her on the court for a while.
“She’s had a tremendous year,” Daugherty said. “She’s gone through some adversity, but despite all that, she’s had a very, very good year.
“You can’t forget about where she is at all times. You have to know where she is on the floor.”
Eventually, Kingma might be carrying the scoring load for the Huskies on a nightly basis. But for a few more games, she’s still got Whitcomb to help keep her in the shadows.
“It’s awesome having Sami here,” she said. “She’s been such a great role model to follow. She’s a leader by example, and those are the best people to learn from.”
Whitcomb certainly has made an impact over the years, but that doesn’t mean Kingma will try to mimic her game.
“I don’t expect Kristi to be anyone other than herself,” Jackson said.