Even at 6-foot-1, University of Wyoming senior Ashley Sickles used to get overlooked on the basketball court. Sickles averaged just 3.1 points per game her first two seasons coming off the bench for the Cowgirls.
That changed last year when the Cresco, Iowa, native started all 29 games and averaged 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game for a rebuilding UW team that finished 12-17.
This year, Sickles is even better; she’s averaging 11.8 points and shooting 38 percent on 3-point attempts.
Not surprisingly, the Cowgirls are also improved. UW went 11-2 in non-conference play, capped by an 87-38 rout of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology on Thursday.
“Ashley is having, by far, her best season,” UW coach Joe Legerski said. “She works extremely hard at her game and she has taken on a toughness this year [with] rebounding and getting to the basket.
“Ashley falls right into that category of being a game-changer this year.”
Sickles had team highs of 18 points, including a key basket late in the game, and nine rebounds to help the Cowgirls to a 58-56 victory at Montana on Dec. 6. On Thursday, Sickles gave UW an early 3-0 lead with an old-fashioned three-point play and later scored inside to push the lead to 15-11. She finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
Sickles said she spent the offseason working on her inside game. It shows.
“I tried to work on being more consistent in the post with my moves,” she said. “I especially worked on a couple of moves, so I could be more confident with them.”
Sickles’ improved play has helped open the paint for senior teammate Chaundra Sewell, a returning all-Mountain West second-team selection who leads the Cowgirls in scoring (14.9 ppg) and the conference in rebounding (10.2 rpg).
“Ashley is a tough player in the post, and I think having us out there together helps us a lot,” Sewell said after scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against the Hardrockers. “It’s nice to have another post player that the opposing team is worried about.”
While Sickles didn’t attempt a 3-pointer in Thursday’s game, she’s enough of an outside threat that defenders have to guard her on the perimeter. And that makes Sewell’s job in the paint that much easier.
“I wouldn’t be able to grab the rebounds I do and get the putbacks that I do if Ashley wasn’t out there on the perimeter drawing the defense’s attention,” Sewell said. “It kind of clears out some area around the basket and allows me to do what I can do.”
With sophomores Kayla Woodward and Kaitlyn Mileto also averaging double-digit points and a group of bench players that continues to play important minutes, Sickles is still sometimes overlooked. But Legerski said UW wouldn’t be in the position it’s in without her.
“She’s such a perimeter threat … that she can really stretch a defense,” he said. “But just her overall toughness to play the game stands out to me.
“You like to see that out of seniors because it shows she understands the time is short for her and she’s going to make the most of each and every game.”