SEATTLE — The answer was right there all along, as obvious as the purple paint in the key on the team’s home court.
A University of Washington women’s basketball team that was looking for a go-to scorer to replace injured star Kristi Kingma found it in the biggest, most skilled player on the team.
Senior post Regina Rogers, a 6-foot-4 power player with ballerina feet and a soft touch, has been an obvious candidate to lead the Huskies in scoring since she came to UW as a UCLA transfer three years ago. But only recently have her skills and production come together on a consistent basis.
“The coaches talked to me a lot, and they told me as a senior I need to step up and carry the load since Kristi’s gone,” Rogers said. “I feel like (the scoring load is divided) equally. Sometimes some people do better than others, and these past two games have been my time.
“Hopefully the rest of the games are like that, but whatever comes to me, I’m hoping that I’ll get it.”
Through five games this season, Rogers ranks fifth in the Pacific-12 Conference in scoring (17.5) and second in field-goal percentage (70.4). She has led the Huskies (3-2) in scoring four times and is averaging 19.7 points per game in UW’s last three.
“She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and certainly played really well,” said coach Kevin McGuff, whose Huskies play at Idaho tonight and host Long Beach State on Sunday. “We need to continue to make sure she can do that for us. She’s become, obviously, a big part of what we do on offense. Our players have also done a good job of recognizing that and have done a good job of getting her the ball.”
Talking about getting the ball to Rogers has never been a problem. Former UW coach Tia Jackson singled her out as a focus of the Huskies’ offense for most of the past two seasons, although the team’s guards often had trouble getting the ball into her.
This didn’t seem like an obvious breakout opportunity, what with McGuff bringing in a new, higher-paced system to the program, and yet Rogers knew her time had arrived when Kingma went down with a season-ending knee injury in August.
“We’ve always had that person on the team that they need to go to the last couple years,” said Rogers, who scored a season-high 26 points in the Huskies’ loss to San Diego State over the weekend. “We’ve had Sami Whitcomb (in 2009-10). And we’ve had Kristi Kingma (last season). This year has just been my year.”
A big part of Rogers’s success has been the ability of UW’s guards to get the ball to her in the paint. A backcourt featuring sophomore Mercedes Wetmore and freshman Jazmine Davis has improved UW’s assist total to 13.6 per game, a big jump from the 11.2 assists-per-game marked that ranked at the bottom of the Pac-10 last season.
Rogers and Wetmore have spent countless post-practice minutes working on their inside-outside passing game, and it appears to be paying off.
“If you see her (jersey) numbers, she’s getting the ball — because she’s going to finish it,” Wetmore said. “If we’re not getting her the ball when she’s open, there’s going to be a problem.”
What makes the former Washington state high school player-of-the-year’s production so surprising is that she’s finally putting it all together in a system that doesn’t seem like it should fit her game. Rogers, who has often described her own build as a female version of father and former NFL defensive lineman Reggie Rogers, has actually been playing more minutes while keeping up with the pace of games.
“I’m very comfortable,” she said of McGuff’s system. “Day by day, I’m getting in better shape.”
With bigger, stronger opponents on the horizon when Pac-12 play begins at the end of this month, the big question now is how long Rogers can keep up the pace.
“It’s her senior year, so she really wants to end on a high note,” Wetmore said. “And she deserves that.”