Freshmen key to strong start for ASU women’s basketball

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                </div>  Despite hitting an unexpected pothole on their trip through Washington state, the Arizona State women’s basketball team smoothed things out yesterday in dominating fashion, beating the Washington Huskies in […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Despite hitting an unexpected pothole on their trip through Washington state, the Arizona State women’s basketball team smoothed things out yesterday in dominating fashion, beating the Washington Huskies in Seattle, 78-60.

The Sun Devil women are off to a much stronger start than their pre-seaon pick to finish 10th in the conference would indicate.  And right now they are in the catbird’s seat as they will play at home the next four games, hosting the California teams at Wells Fargo Arena in a two-week span that will give them a good opportunity to get an early foothold in the Pac-12.

Their conference opener with Washington State on Friday was a wake-up call for the Devils, breaking a 10-game winning streak after cruising through the non-conference portion of the schedule, losing just once – and that was to San Diego, which is 15-0 on the season.

Even in the 85-78 loss to Washington State, ASU jumped out to a 15-4 lead, led by 11 points twice throughout the game, and had four players score in double figures.  For the Cougars, a .500 team, the victory was a significant upset they could feed off going into Pac-12 play.

But last night, the Devils took no chances at starting out conference play with two losses.  They put 24 points on the board before the Huskies, who came into the game with an 8-4 record, could get into double digits. Washington closed the gap to 11 points with eight minutes in the half, but the Devils pulled away again and didn’t let the host team get closer than 16 the rest of the way.

That first half established the tone for the rest of the game, as ASU connected on 46 percent shooting in the first half and held Washington to 39 percent.  Their teamwork was on display throughout the half, recording 16 assists while the Huskies had just two, and ball control was as good as it has been all season, with ASU’s five turnovers to twice that many by the Huskies.

Based on the way the Sun Devils are playing, they have a good shot at getting back to post-season play.  Last year was the first time in 14 years that a Charli Turner Thorne-coached team has stayed home after the regular season ended.  A 13-18 record marked the first losing season since 1999-2000.

Turner Thorne, who notched ASU win No. 313 a couple of games ago to give her the second-most wins by a Pac-12 coach, took a year off during the 2011-12 season and was greeted with a major disappointment when she returned to the bench last year.  But a talented recruiting class is helping turn the tide this season.

The 2013 class includes three freshmen post players who are making an impact already. Kelsey Moos‘ 9.8-point average is second on the team in scoring behind redshirt senior guard Deja Mann, who is producing 11.1 points a game. Moos has started 12 of the 13 games she’s played in and fellow frosh, Sophie Brunner, has started in six of her 14 appearances and is averaging 8.1 points per game.  The other freshman post, 6’4″ Quinn Dornstauder, has played in nine games to give the Devils some additional size on the boards off the bench.

This squad is just the sixth since the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 to enter conference play with just one loss and has scored 80 points eight times this season.  It is ranked first in the conference in field-goal percentage, and second in scoring offense and three-point percentage.  They buried Washington with 11 three-pointers.

They have a defense that can step up in the critical games, as witnessed against Washington, which they held to just a pair of three-point conversions..  The Huskies went into that game ranked third in the Pac-12 in that category with eight a game.

And they’ve got depth this year.  The ASU bench is outscoring the opponent’s bench by an average of almost 20 points a game; they enjoyed a 45-10 advantage against the Huskies.

So Turner Thorne has a team that appears, at this point, to be capable of making it back to the post-season. Granted, non-conference success doesn’t always translate to the challenge of conference competition.  However, this season might be different.  During it’s non-conference schedule, ASU has already played – and beat – four teams that went to the 2013 NCAA Tournament: Texas Tech, North Carolina, Miami, and Syracuse.

Bring on the rest of the Pac-12.  ASU appears ready.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)