TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State women’s basketball team has seen a lot of change during the past 12 months. The program has lost key players from the roster, and nowhere has this been felt more than in the frontcourt.
Missing pieces, however, create an opportunity for others. Junior forward Kianna Ibis has made the most of her opportunity, excelling for the Sun Devils so far this season.
ASU lost frontcourt players Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder, Sara Hattis and Kelsey Moos to graduation, and a season-ending injury to guard Sabrina Haines left the Sun Devils with only one starter from last year still playing (sophomore guard Reili Richardson).
The junior from Nebraska leads ASU in scoring at 13.3 points a game and is third in rebounds per game at 4.5.
For those wondering how a player goes from coming off the bench and only reaching double-digit points four times last season to becoming the team’s leading scorer, coach Charli Turner Thorne has an answer.
“It’s the progress that we expected to see, because as I’ve mentioned … Kianna was a big-time prospect and then she hurt her knee her senior year in high school,” Turner Thorne said. “So what she was going to be if she never hurt her knee coming in as a freshman I think was maybe what she’s doing now.
“It’s been fun because we think Kianna, she’s really handling being the go-to player and people keying on her really well.”
For some, Ibis’ rapid growth has been a surprise, but for those on the team and those who know how she got to this level, they knew she was always capable of this.
Ibis was a highly recruited player coming out of high school, committing to ASU before suffering an ACL injury that cut a promising senior season to only 17 games. Before the injury, the Omaha native was averaging 21.2 ppg, 11.2 assists per game, 2.2 steals per game and 1.2 blocks per game.
Ibis said “it’s been a journey” to come back from that injury, and a major part of of that journey started when she came to ASU as a freshman. Ibis chose ASU for many reasons, including the atmosphere surrounding the team, the coaching staff, the facilities and how “everything here is just like a family.”
Ibis came into a program that didn’t demand too much from her early on, and the presence of Brunner, arguably one of the best Sun Devils players ever, definitely helped. Ibis said that watching the team play and seeing the “attention to detail that they had” helped her adapt to the college level, and she identified Brunner specifically as an important positive influence.
“She always gives me advice,” Ibis said. “Even now, on like Snapchat, we’ll be snapping each other and she’ll just give me advice and stuff like that. She’s just always been like the mom of the team; her and Kelsey (have) kind of been the mom of the team.”
Having experienced players to lean on, however, doesn’t guarantee success. Ibis dealt with various injuries that limited her first year.
“When I got here (to ASU) I actually was recovering because I got here early in May,” Ibis said. “I was recovering and I went down and re-tore my meniscus my freshman year.”
Though she was injured, Ibis took advantage of her time, learning as much as she could from her teammates and coaches.
“Just being able to sit out and watch before just being thrown into everything kind of helped me and it definitely helped me develop as a player because just being able to watch Sophie and Kelsey and all the seniors and role players before me, I just definitely learned off of them.”
For Ibis, her sophomore season, which she spent getting healthy and still learning from those ahead of her, helped teach her important lessons, like being able to “value every possession and … anybody can beat anybody, it doesn’t matter on rankings or anything.”
All of her learning and healing has allowed Ibis to get back to looking like the dominant player she was in high school. Ibis said that her success this year is a product of playing more minutes and “becoming a bigger role player” for the team.
For Turner Thorne, having Ibis play to her current level helps, but it doesn’t mean the team looks at her to be their only go-to player.
“We’ve had a lot of wins so far this year and we’ve had a lot of different leading scorers,” Turner Thorne said. “We try not to run everything to Kianna and put a lot of pressure on her … so I do think we’re a pretty balanced team. We have about four people in double figures right now, which is good. That helps not put too much pressure on Kianna to score, but like I said, people are going to keep keying on her and she’s just got to get more assists; she’s got to be able to move the ball and we got to be a little bit more strategic offensively when we get her the ball.”
Turner Thorne has also seen Ibis evolve from just an explosive scorer to a well-rounded player.
“Every time we put her in the game, ‘put her in to score’, ‘put her in to score’, but now truly, she is a great defensive player and she’s just becoming a more complete player,” Turner Thorne said. “As a starter, she’s taking on some huge assignments defensively and still scores 20-some points, so I think getting better at help side (defense), getting better in every aspect of her game (is the goal), and a big thing we’ve talked about lately is just getting some assists. (If people are going to collapse and double you, then (you have to) move the ball, and she’s working on that.”
The Sun Devils are 17-7 overall and 8-4 in conference play with only six games left in the regular season. Led by Ibis and other new faces, ASU is in position to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“All of us step up at different times,” Ibis said.
It will be interesting to see how far that will take the Sun Devils this season. One thing, however, is for sure: Ibis is glad to finally play to her potential and be a major reason for ASU’s success.
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