2017-18 ASU Women’s Basketball Preview
By Ethan Schmidt and Dylan Carter // ASU Women’s Basketball Beat Writers for Blaze Sports
TEMPE, AZ – The Arizona State Women’s Basketball team begins its 2017-18 campaign this weekend. There are some new faces on the squad and familiar ladies ready for the new season.
Quick Review of Last Season
The Sun Devils finished the 2016-17 season with a 20-13 overall record. ASU made it to the second round of both the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
Pac-12 play was a back and forth effort for the Sun Devils. The team went 9-9 in conference match-ups, going 5-4 at home and 4-5 on the road.
The team accomplished its fourth-consecutive 20-win season and fourth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Sun Devils came up short to the eventual national champion South Carolina.
ASU’s offense averaged 63.8 points per game, while the defense held opponents to 57.8 points per game which was ranked 37th in the nation.
Arizona State loses four seniors from last season in Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder, Kelsey Moos and Sara Hattis. Brunner led the team in points, points per game, rebounds, steals, minutes and field goal percentage.
2017-18 Schedule Preview
The Sun Devils will begin their season with a stretch of non-conference matchups including meetings with UTSA, Fresno State, Sacramento State, and Colgate before heading to Cancun.
All but one of these match-ups will be in Tempe, where they won all six non-conference matchups last season. ASU is favored in each of its first four games.
The Sun Devils have been admitted to the Mayan Division of the Cancun Challenge, where they’ll face Columbia, Green Bay and No. 7 Mississippi State. This will be the team’s biggest test of the preseason, as the Sun Devils’ young core will take on one of the nation’s most highly regarded squads.
Following their international getaway, the Sun Devils will host the ASU Classic. They’ll compete with Buffalo in the first game and go on to face either UNLV or UC Riverside. None of these match-ups seem particularly daunting and will allow the team to showcase their talents in front of the Wells Fargo Arena crowd.
They’ll round out the preseason with three matchups against No. 8 Florida State, Idaho and Arkansas before heading into conference play.
The Pac-12 is a powerhouse for women’s basketball with five teams in the preseason Associated Press Top 25. Arizona State is projected to finish sixth in the conference behind UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State and California.
Most notably to fans, the Sun Devils will face their rival Arizona Wildcats in back-to-back games on Feb. 16 in Tempe, and Feb. 18 in Tucson. The Wildcats are ranked No. 11 of 12 according to the PAC-12 Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Poll, which fares very well for the feisty Sun Devils.
Arizona State’s backcourt is led by sophomore guard Reili Richardson. She had a huge impact as a freshman last year averaging 10.4 points per game, just second behind Brunner. Richardson played in all 33 games last season and she started in 25.
Richardson set the program’s freshman record with 126 assists and will enter the 2017-18 season as the active career leader. She also earned a silver medal playing for the USA Basketball Women’s U19 Team in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup in Italy over the summer.
Junior guard Sabrina Haines is an Arizona native. She will enter the 2017-18 season as ASU’s active career leader in points (401), steals (55) and three-pointers (44). Haines has 66 games under her belt as a Sun Devil along with 32 starts last season. Look for her to provide early leadership with her experience.
Kiara Russell is a sophomore guard from Minneapolis, Minn. She started the first seven games as ASU’s point guard last season before suffering a quad injury. Russell played in 27 games and finished tied for third on the team in assists per game with 1.8.
Sophomore guard Robbi Ryan played in every game as a freshman and had 12 starts. The Sheridan, Wyo., native averaged 6.5 points per game and had 13 three-pointers. Ryan’s large amount of early experience will have her set for a possible break-out season in 2017-18.
Sophia Elenga is a junior transfer from Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz., and is originally from Nogent Sur Oise, France. She dominated at Cochise and helped lead the Apaches to their best record in program history last season. Elenga is the tallest player in the Sun Devil backcourt standing at 6-foot-1. The Sun Devils expect her to have a major impact right away.
Courtney Ekmark is a redshirt junior and native of Arizona. She transferred to ASU in June 2016 after playing two season for UConn. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Ekmark sat out last season. She will begin her two years of eligibility this 2017-18 season.
Freshman guard/forward Bre’yanna Sanders is from Fresno, Calif. She joins Eva Rubin as the only two freshmen to join the team for the 2017-18 season. Sanders accounted for 1,258 career points and close to 1,000 rebounds at Clovis West High School. She helped lead her team to a 34-2 record and the CIF State Open Division title last season.
The ASU starting frontcourt was left vacant following the departures of center Quinn Dornstauder and forward Sophie Brunner. With both of their leading rebounders gone, the young players on this roster will have some big responsibility.
Freshman Eva Rubin from Flossmoor, Illinois committed to ASU in Sept. of 2016 and will likely have an important role in her first year. The 6-foot-5 center may be the key to the Sun Devils’ impending struggles on the glass. The four-star recruit is known for her low-post prowess, physicality and rebounding skills.
Coach Turner Thorne may look to returning center Charnea Johnson-Chapman to fill in for Dornstauder. Johnson-Chapman played in 29 games last season for nearly seven minutes per game.
The forward rotation is still a major question for this Sun Devils team, as the possibility of small-ball has been tossed around throughout the offseason.
Redshirt junior Courtney Ekmark will make her ASU debut this season and is expected to make an instant impact. She’s a hybrid guard/forward which leaves the possibility of her starting as a forward.
Junior Kianna Ibis is another forward to watch for. She averaged nearly 18 minutes per game in her sophomore season and contributed 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. With an off-season of practice and a new opportunity at her hands, Ibis may be ready to step-up into a starting role.
Head coach Charli Turner Thorne is the winningest coach in Sun Devil women’s basketball history. Her 400 career wins at Arizona State are ranked second in the Pac-12. Under Turner Thorne, the Sun Devils have made it to the postseason in 17 of their last 18 seasons, including a school record five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (2005-09). She has also earned two gold medals with USA Basketball.
The 2017-18 season will be her 21st as ASU head coach. This will be her first season without a senior on the roster.
Turner Thorne has brought in Terri Mitchell in the brand-new position of special assistant to the head coach. Mitchell was the head coach at Marquette for 18 seasons where she won 348 games and took the Golden Eagles to the postseason 15 times. She began her coaching career at ASU as a graduate assistant in 1989 and finds her way back for the 2017-18 season.
Jackie Moore has been promoted to associate head coach after serving as an assistant coach for five years alongside Turner Thorne. She has more than 20 years of coaching experience, including assistant coaching at Nevada, Miami (Fla.), Boston College and UMass.
Angie Nelp has been brought on as an assistant coach. She comes to ASU from Rice University and recently led the Owls to a WBI Championship, the first postseason title in program history. Nelp is a former player and is expected to help improve the front court.
Brianna January was named an assistant coach this past offseason. She recently just finished her ninth professional season as a guard with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. January is considered an all-time Sun Devil great after she helped lead ASU to 104 wins, the most in program history in a four-year stretch. She was named to the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball All-Century team after finishing her collegiate career at the top of many ASU statistical categories
While this Sun Devils team may have lost some key contributors, they’re still an extremely well-coached team with a talented roster. They’ll certainly be competitive in the Pac-12 and will contend to reach their fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Their depth on the wing is what will set them apart from the competition this season. The tandem of Haines, Richardson, Ryan and Ekmark should keep this Sun Devils’ offense up-tempo throughout the year. If they can capitalize on strong ball-movement and compensate for the loss of Brunner, they’ll be a scary team to face.
The Sun Devils have high expectations to meet in this fresh, new season. Turner Thorne has put together an impeccable staff and it should translate into wins on the court.
This team is very young, but still filled with lots of experience. The returning players, such as Reili Richardson, know what needs to be done to be championship contenders. The new Sun Devils Turner Thorne brought in Sophia Elenga, Eva Rubin and Bre’yanna Sanders can easily make a major impact right away.
Pac-12 play is an area of concern heading into this season, but the Sun Devils will improve their .500 record from last season. Expect this year’s ASU team to make a deep run in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, and then earn a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Ethan Schmidt and Dylan Carter are the two Blaze Sports beat writers for ASU Women’s Basketball. You can reach out to them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and follow them on Twitter @TheEthanSchmidt and @DylanHCarter.