Dimes, Dishes and Defense: Arizona State PG Reili Richardson’s Emergence As An Elite Two-Way Player

By Dylan Carter // Women’s Basketball Beat Writer for Blaze Sports

(Photo: Weston DeWitt / Blaze Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz  —  Of all positions in basketball, it can be argued the modern point guard is tasked with the most important role every time down the floor.

Strong point guard play can make or break a team both offensively and defensively. For Arizona State women’s basketball, consistent point guard contribution has propelled the young core into contention.

Between her multifaceted skill set and ability as a playmaker, sophomore Reili Richardson has embodied the modern point guard with her play this season. The second-year Sun Devil has emerged as one of the nation’s top distributors while remaining a defensive pest.

In her freshman campaign, Richardson showed signs as an impactful floor general for coach Charli Turner Thorne.

The four-star recruit out of Brea, California finished her 2016-2017 campaign by lighting up both the PAC-12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, including a 16-point outing against South Carolina to close out the year.

“She’s agile and deceptive with her quickness so I think people had very high expectations of Reili considering how she finished the year last year,” Thorne said. “I think she’s living up to them.”

In addition to her collegiate success, Richardson spent her offseason representing the United States in the 2017 FIBA U-19 World Cup, where she earned a silver medal.

(Photo: Weston DeWitt / Blaze Sports)

She set the ASU record for freshman assists with 126 in her first year. Through 22 games in her sophomore season, she’s got 112 and is on pace to break her season-total with more than a month left in conference play.

As a second-year Sun Devil, Richardson has proven herself as one of the PAC-12’s premier two-way players. Just about any Division 1 athlete can score, but it takes a high level of maturity and basketball-IQ for a young player to improve the play of their teammates while remaining focused on the defensive end. Her determination and will to win have set her apart from the average point guard.

She leads the Sun Devils, who use a guard-heavy rotation, in assists with 5.1 per game. This ties her for fifth in the conference in assists per game with Oregon’s Maite Cazorla. Furthermore, Richardson leads the conference in Assist-to-Turnover ratio at 3.5, which ranks sixth in the nation.

“In the offseason we work on scoring and so when we started the season, I knew that we had scorers on the team,” Richardson said. “As a point guard, you’re not always going to score every time down the floor.”

Passing is key in modern basketball, so a playmaking point guard like Richardson is an invaluable asset for a competing team such as ASU. With high-volume shooters such as Robbi Ryan and Courtney Ekmark on the wing, Richardson has subdued her scoring in favor of her teammates.

The pick-and-roll is a vital aspect of Arizona State’s offensive game plan. Their centers set screens early and often, forcing opponents into switches and awkward defensive rotations. Richardson has executed this perfectly for the Sun Devils. Starting bigs Kianna Ibis and Charnea Johnson Chapman have been the recipients of many of Richardson’s finest dimes this year.

“She’s very intelligent, so if she doesn’t pass me the ball then I know that there’s a reason why,” Johnson Chapman said. “There are certain games where teams double. To have a point guard who can pass it to a certain spot or angle so that a person won’t steal it is important.”

As her passing has reached new levels of success, Richardson has struggled to score this year despite finishing her freshman season on a hot streak offensively. She leads the team in minutes played, but takes less than six shots per contest and has struggled to convert on most of her opportunities. She connected on just 32.1 percent of her attempts from the field, which is the worst among Sun Devils this season.

(Photo: Weston DeWitt / Blaze Sports)

She’s shown flashes of who she could become as a scorer, but has appeared timid with the ball at times. Throughout her young career, she’s showcased the ability to create looks off of the drive as well as rattle in shots from deep. Unfortunately, Richardson’s confidence as a scorer has dipped.

“I think it’s bothering her right now because we’re getting into games and people aren’t playing her very hard, so no better way to motivate somebody to want to score,” Thorne said. “That’s not a fun thing when you’re the one that people don’t have to guard, and they do have to guard her, but she’s been so unaggressive that some teams feel that they can help off of her a little bit.”

This is something that the Sun Devils believe could help them deep into the season. With PAC-12 opponents scouting ahead so heavily, Richardson is an offensive breakout candidate for the conclusion of conference play. If last season is any testament to her competitive drive toward the end of the year, Richardson may return to form for ASU’s final stretch of play.

“I know that I can hit shots in practice. When I get to the games, I have to know I can knock down shots,” Richardson said.

Her contributions have been plentiful for the Sun Devils this season. Regardless of her poor shooting and lack of confidence, she’s been their best passer and one of their best wing defenders in a season full of tough matchups. In the face of adversity, Richardson has anchored the Sun Devils. The next step in her development is to grow her confidence and to improve her shooting efficiency. This is something that Thorne believes will be remedied in the homestretch of the year.

“We had a great heart-to-heart yesterday so look for Reili to shoot more,” Thorne said. “She’s incredibly smart and I think she’s going to respond to that.”

Dylan Carter is a beat writer for Blaze Sports covering ASU Women’s Basketball. You can reach out to him at dylanhuntercarter@gmail.com or follow Dylan on Twitter @DylanHCarter .

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