Shouldering some of the highest expectations in program history, the Arizona State women’s basketball team sends a group to the court that mostly resembles the one that stormed into the Sweet 16 as a No. 3 seed last March. Defensive stopper Promise Amukamara has graduated, but the nucleus of point guard Elisha Davis, shooting guard Katie Hempen and frontcourt of Sophie Brunner, Kelsey Moos and Quinn Dornstadauer is back and more mature.
“As much as we have a lot of seniors, we only have two who start,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said, referring to Davis and Hempen, “and they’re second-year starters. At the beginning of the year, you have to learn your team; every team’s a little different.”
Ranked No. 15 in the nation, the Sun Devils (29-6, 15-3 Pacific-12 in 2014-15) tipped off their season with a 68-64 overtime loss to No. 17 Kentucky Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena. ASU allowed a 12-point halftime lead slip away and were overmatched in post scoring (44-26) and points off turnovers (19-10).
“It’s uncharacteristic of our team, we had been good finishers,” Turner Thorne said. “This is life without Promise Amukamara, we wanted to run at the end of the game, and we didn’t. Our perimeter defense three weeks ago, it’s actually gotten better. We have some things to figure out. Kelsey is going to be a great stopper for us, Lili (Davis) is a good defender, but we’re not there yet.”
Davis started all 35 of the Sun Devils’ games last season, averaging 7.5 points per game, fourth on the team behind Hempen (12.0), Brunner (11.9, plus 7.6 rebounds), and Promise Amukamara (10.9). It was the 5-foot-3 Davis who blocked UALR’s Alexius Dawn at the buzzer to secure the second round NCAA win 57-54.
“We had a really good scrimmage that prepared us for this moment,” Davis said after the Kentucky loss. “You can’t wait for anything; we have to be better listeners. When things are clutch, we have to be better prepared. I definitely think it will help us. It prepared us because every game after this will be the same or harder. It prepared going forward.”
Going forward, after a matchup at SMU at noon Saturday, the Sun Devils will play No. 2 South Carolina Nov. 27 in Hawaii. Next is a game with the Rainbow Wahine, which looked like a solid tournament team in its 74-41 win at Grand Canyon Friday. ASU is at No. 23 Syracuse Dec. 12 and hosts No. 7 Florida State Dec. 21 in a rematch of the regional semifinal in Greensboro. The conference slate opens with California and Stanford in Tempe the first week of January.
In addition to returners Dornstauder (7.2 ppg in 2014-15) and Moos (6.8 and 5.4 rebounds), are senior guards Arnecia Hawkins and Peace Amukamara, senior forward Eliza Normen, and sophomore guard Tia Kanoa. The incoming freshmen are Arnecia’s sister Armani Hawkins (from Mesa Mountain View High School), Sabrina Haines from Phoenix Desert Vista High, 6-foot-3 center Charnea Johnson-Chapman, and 6-foot-1 forward Kianna Ibis.
“Kianna has been practicing for two weeks and didn’t feel ready, I’m hoping for next week,” Turner Thorne said. “Sabrina, I thought we could play her more, it’s just hard playing a top team with guard play like that. They’re (the freshmen) going to help us, they’re going to be in the rotation. That’s a big game to get thrown into, they have a big learning curve. Our starters have been there and done it, but we need a deeper rotation.”
This summer also earned some players valuable international experience. Hempen’s Team USA defeated Dornstauder’s Canadian team in the gold medal game of the World University Games in Korea, while Brunner’s American team fell to Canada in the championship of the Pan-American Games in Toronto.