Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Timing is everything for ASU's Kianna Ibis

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Timing is everything, Kianna Ibis has discovered. Particularly true if you are a senior.

“As soon as we got into Pac-12 play, I knew every game was going to be a battle,” Ibis said. “I need to step up. I’m a senior. It’s my last year. I need to lead my team in some way to show what I can do. I know I was kind of quiet in the preseason.”

Ibis is anything but quiet now. Heading into Arizona State’s home weekend against UCLA and USC, Ibis is playing the best basketball of her career for a team that is playing catch-up behind the pace-setters of the Pac-12.

The forward from Omaha, Nebraska, picked a great time for a career day, scoring 28 points in the Sun Devils’ much-needed double-overtime win at Oregon State, the first win over a top-10 team this season for a squad that has played one of the nation’s most brutal schedules.

Arizona State sits at 4-3 in conference play heading into the critical weekend set against the Southern California schools, the Sun Devils knowing they can ill-afford many more stumbles if they want to make a run at competing for the Pac-12 title.

Ibis has stepped up her game accordingly. She has scored more than 20 points in four of her last five games, taking a season-opening loss at Arizona – in which the Sun Devils scored just 39 points – to heart. She’s scored in double-figures in all but two games this season and is the only player on ASU’s roster averaging double-digit scoring at 14.7 points a game.

“Everybody on our team can score,” Ibis said. “We haven’t really had that lately, but it does help out team to have somebody who can be a threat. While they are keying on me, Courtney (Ekmark) can get going. Or they key on Courtney and somebody else has an opportunity. Any of us can go off on any night, but we really haven’t had that yet. And we need it.”

Ibis said even as she started the season more slowly than she wanted, her teammates and her coaches kept encouraging her.

“I used to get in my own head a lot and I had to change that mentality to keep shooting,” Ibis said. “Not everybody makes every single shot, but you have to stay aggressive.”

Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne said that Ibis has “found her groove.”

“A lot of the preseason, she would tell you, that she was missing things she never missed,” Turner Thorne said. “I think she was squeezing a little too tight, and now she’s in a zone, relaxing. She’s playing like she’s found her rhythm, doing what she can do.”

Turner Thorne sees Ibis in the gym early every morning, working with coaches. She sees her talking through her game, asking what she can do to become a better scorer, watching film and putting in the work.

“I’m always a believer that you reap what you sow, and her work is starting to pay off,” Turner Thorne said.

It has been a long time since the Sun Devils had a dominant scorer in the way that Ibis has shown during this recent stretch.

“We’d like to be a team like Oregon, with all five starters in double figures,” Turner Thorne said. “Having someone like Kianna score this way for us is really fun. She is one of the most humble, modest kids, but she has a shooters’ mentality. Having somebody score at that level makes us harder to guard.”

Ibis has never played past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. She believes that the Sun Devils’ experience playing some of the nation’s best teams – and getting a big win in Corvallis – will get them there.

“We’ve played a lot of top-10 teams and we know we can play with them, even when we’ve come up short,” Ibis said. “For us to finally get a win (against a top-10 team) gave us a lot of confidence and now we have to sustain it for the rest of the season. I know we aren’t peaking yet.”

The calendar is nearly turning to February. Ibis said the realization that she can count the weeks to the end of her college career is inspiring.

“I honestly feel like I just got here,” Ibis said. “Freshman year actually felt really long. Every year has gotten shorter and shorter. Now I’m just trying to enjoy every moment.”

Because it’s all about the timing.

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.

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