TEMPE, Ariz. — Seven minutes, two points, two rebounds.
Those aren’t the numbers Kirsten Thompson wants to produce at this time in her college basketball career at Arizona State University, and this hasn’t been the season she or anyone with the program had envisioned in her junior year with the Sun Devils.
But there’s hardly an athlete who never goes through a period like this, and Thompson is realistic about what’s happening.
“I’m just having a bad slump, that’s all,” said the 6-foot-6 center who starred at Monroe High School. “It’s been a struggle. But I think sometimes you need to struggle in order to appreciate what it takes to have the kind of season we want to have.”
Three years ago at Monroe, Thompson became the first girl in Washington to be named a McDonald’s high school All-American. Last season, as a sophomore at Arizona State, she scored in double figures 10 times, finished third on the team and sixth in the Pacific-10 Conference with a .520 field goal percentage, and scored 14 points twice in ASU victories over UCLA and California in the Pac-10 postseason tournament.
This season has been different.
Partly because coach Charli Turner Thorne is spreading around the playing time on a team deep with post players, and partly because the shots haven’t fallen for Thompson, the numbers aren’t what they once were.
She goes into tonight’s game at Washington averaging 5.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 12.5 minutes per game. In the Sun Devils’ loss to Stanford on Sunday, she had two points, two rebounds and four fouls in seven minutes.
“It has been tough, it is tough and it will be tough,” she said. “You definitely learn about yourself. But you can’t stop playing. You’ve got to play through it and play through all the emotions you might be having. Eventually, it will turn out in your favor.”
Thorne rotates 10 players in her lineup and Thompson often has been the first player off the bench. As the season has progressed, two transfer centers, 6-3 junior Lauren Lacey of Minnesota and 6-3 junior Sybil Dotsy of Tennessee, have gotten more playing time, as has 6-2 sophomore Kayli Murphy.
“We have six posts in our program and there’s a lot of competition. K.T has handled it really well,” Thorne said. “These kids, they know who’s getting it done and who’s not, who’s rebounding the ball and who’s playing good defense. She has a really good perspective, she very much wants to be successful and she works very hard at basketball.”
Away from the basketball court, Thompson says life is great.
Her parents, Leslie and Scott Thompson, live part of the year in nearby Chandler, Ariz. She was a Pac-10 academic honorable mention last year and has nearly completed her coursework to become a film major. And she maintains her dream of playing professionally, even if it means living in Europe.
“Everything is awesome for me right now,” she said. “Basketball will always be basketball. My parents are around. Everything is good.”
As one of the three tallest players in the Pac-10, Thompson is a huge target of opponents who try just about anything to keep her from getting the ball in a place she can score.
“She’s 6-6 and people know she can put the ball in the basket,” Thorne said. “Every time she’s in the game, people beat on her. It’s a contact sport and when you’re constantly being beat on, it can be challenging. They don’t want Kirsten to be comfortable because when she’s comfortable, she’s dangerous. But she’s handling it better and better and better. She has to; she deals with it every game.
“K.T. is a core player for us. She’s capable of instant offense. She’s at the point now where she’s experienced, she knows the system and she knows what she needs to do. Some days she’s getting it done and some days she’s not, but it’s the same with a lot of players.”
Thompson clearly is capable. She scored 16 points Dec. 9 against Cal-Davis and was named the Pac-10 women’s basketball player of the week.
“That definitely was a good show of what I can do,” she said. “I would like to think I focus on things other than being a good scorer. I pretty much concentrate on my defense, rebounding and my running.”
Tonight is a special game for Thompson, playing against the Huskies just a few miles from where she starred in high school at Monroe. But it’s also another opportunity to turn her season around. Despite the ups and downs so far, 11 games remain in the regular season and Thompson said she believes she can make a difference for the Sun Devils.
“Whether or not it’s scoring or defense or just coming onto the floor and giving all I’ve got, I think I really do have a chance to have an impact on this team,” she said.
Her coach agrees.
“She was in a good place early,” Thorne said. “I think her best basketball is still ahead of her this season.”