After two weeks of road games that wound through Texas and all the way to Hawaii, the Arizona State women’s basketball team is back home, getting ready to host its annual ASU Classic tournament that runs tomorrow and Sunday.
And trying to build up a won-loss record that needs a little work.
When the season began, the Sun Devils were ranked No. 15 in the pre-season polls and were returning nine veterans and fours starters that were expected to get them off to a strong start to the 2015-16 season. But instead they’re off to a frustrating 3-2 start.
The frustration is with good reason. Just six points separate them from an undefeated record.
In the home opener, they lost to then-No. 18 Kentucky by four points in overtime. The Devils had a 29-17 lead at halftime and were two points up with 22 seconds in regulation before the Wildcats tied it up and went on to a 68-64 victory.
Two games later, at the Rainbow Wahine Showdown tournament in Hawaii, the Devils were within a fraction of a second of an upset that would have rocked the national standings. ASU took a two-point lead into the final minute of its tourney opener with No. 2 South Carolina (a Final Four team last year) before the Gamecocks tied the game at 58-58.
After a couple of failed shots in an ASU attempt to take the lead back, South Carolina came up with the ball with 8.3 seconds left to play. With six-tenths of a second left on the clock, A’ja Wilson was fouled and canned both shots for the 60-58 escape.
An ASU win could have moved the Sun Devils into the top 10, but instead they enter tomorrow’s game with Virginia Commonwealth (5-1 Atlantic 10 Conference) at No. 17 in the AP rankings and No. 19 in the coaches’ poll.
Now begins the process of working their way back up the rankings ladder.
The Sun Devils were on a roll after posting 29 wins last season, the second-most in the history of the program, and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. They lost that game by one point; they were one possession away from playing in the Elite Eight for the first time since their last appearance in 2009.
Charli Turner Thorne, in her 19th season as head coach, has taken the program to 10 NCAA Tournament berths, four Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights, and a Pac-12 title back in the 2000-01 season.
Despite all that, they were picked in the pre-season Pac-12 coaches’ poll to only finish third in the conference this season.
But, judging by the way they’re playing so far against ranked opponents, they could better those expectations. Their record right now just doesn’t reflect that promise.
Turner Thorne said she had expected their rotation to be a little tight to start the schedule; she’s trying to blend in some very talented and athletic freshmen, but that’s often a rather slow process.
The returning group she will depend upon in the meantime includes: senior guard Katie Hempen, who set the school’s single-season record for most 3-pointers; senior guard Elisha Davis, who has led the team in assists the last two years; junior forward Sophie Brunner, the active leader in rebounds and steals and second in scoring; junior center Quinn Domstauder who came off the bench but played in every game last season and led the team in blocks; and junior forward Kelsey Moos, who was second on last year’s squad in field goal percentage and rebounds per game.
“We’re looking for people to step up (this season),” she said as the schedule was just getting underway a couple of weeks ago. “Our ‘helper’ culture has to be on this season. We have to really be working together.”
She’s counting on a rugged non-conference schedule that includes five teams that qualified for the NCAA Tornament last year to prepare this team for conference play and, hopefully, another deep run into the post-season. South Carolina, she says, probably has more talent than any other team they will play.
“Once you’ve played teams like that, there’s not much you haven’t seen,” she points out.
And to think…her team was within a heartbeat of winning that game.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)