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ASU women show growth during first half of season

INCHES AWAY: Junior Tenaya Watson pushes the ball a little further towards the basket in last weeks game against Stanford. (Photo Courtesy of Steve Rodriguez)

What a difference a month makes.

During the first week of January, the ASU women’s basketball team ventured into unchartered territory when it dropped its first three games of the Pac-10 season against USC, UCLA and Washington.

That marked the first time since the 2005-06 season that the Sun Devils lost to a conference team in the regular season that was not Stanford or California, and they proceeded to tumble out of the national polls.

But since then, the Sun Devils have rebounded to win five of their last six games, with their only loss coming at No. 2 Stanford, to sit at 5-4 and in a tie for fourth place at the midway point of the Pac-10 season.

“I’m thrilled, and obviously this team has some character,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We were all looking around [after the 0-3 start] going, ‘Wow, what are we made of?’ and I think that this team has really responded well.”

With the second round of conference play beginning Thursday against Washington, here’s a look at where currently stands.

What’s been good


Anyone who has followed the Sun Devils during the first half of the Pac-10 season has been able to see dramatic maturation in a squad that has broken seven new players into the rotation this season.

ASU’s youth and inexperience really showed when it squandered a double-digit lead in the final minutes against USC then got blown out at home against UCLA then dropped its first conference road contest of the year against UW.

But the Sun Devils came full circle when they came back from a 10-point hole to beat Cal 63-61 on a last-second shot by Danielle Orsillo on Saturday.

“We just fought every possession, and it was just really good composure,” Orsillo said. “I think that’s where we’ve really grown. I don’t remember one time being freaked out being down 10 with four minutes left.”

The “newbies” aren’t so new anymore, and the way they all continue to develop will determine the amount of success ASU has the rest of the season.

Post play

ASU’s inside game was touted as the strength of the team before the season even started, and for the most part, the Sun Devil post players have delivered.

The Sun Devils rank second in the Pac-10 and 18th in the nation in rebounding margin (+7.2), and junior forward Becca Tobin (6.3) and senior forward Kayli Murphy (5.9) both rank in the top 20 in the conference in rebounds per game.

Tobin also ranks second in the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage (53.6) and fifth in blocked shots (1.35).

Redshirt freshman forward Janae Fulcher and sophomore center Kali Bennett have also shown improvement throughout the season and have the potential to really bolster the ASU offense in the second round of conference play.

“My hope for them is that they can build on this past weekend,” Turner Thorne said. “They’ve had great games and great weeks of play, but the challenge for them is to do it day in and day out, and that’s what I’m going to be looking for from them.”

Danielle Orsillo

The unquestioned senior leader on the perimeter has been fantastic so far in her final season in Tempe.

Orsillo ranks 11th in the Pac-10 scoring (14 points per game) and has been averaging 16.5 points during the last six contests.

But what’s more impressive is that Orsillo, who has mostly been utilized as an outside shooter during her college career, has become a much more versatile offensive player.


A Charli Turner Thorne team is allowing less than 60 points per game.

Surprise, surprise.

ASU’s most impressive performances on the defensive end so far this season came against Oregon, when it held the Ducks 19 points below their season average, and against Cal, when they held senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson to just 14 points after she had been averaging almost 31 during the Golden Bears’ previous five games.

Still, Turner Thorne said continuing to improve on the defensive end, especially on the perimeter, is still a major key for her team.

“I’m really challenging [junior guard Tenaya Watson] and Danielle to be better, because they can,” Turner Thorne said. “[I’m also] really continuing to work [sophomore guard Alex Earl] and [sophomore wing Kimberly Brandon] as our stoppers—as being on that top scorer and just working hard to not let them touch the ball.”

Staying healthy

The Sun Devils weren’t dealt a good hand at the top of the season when they knew they would be without guards Dymond Simon and Markisha Patterson for the entire year because of serious knee injuries.

But since then, ASU has stayed relatively healthy. Senior guard Gabby Fage has been hobbled by injuries to her knee and nose and may be out for the rest of the season, but she is the only Sun Devil to miss significant time so far this season.

What needs to improve


With so many new faces on the floor this season, there were bound to be plenty of bumps in the road and growing pains.

And there have been times this season where ASU has simply looked lost and totally out of sync.

Different players have shown flashes of brilliance — most notably Fulcher, Watson, and Bennett — but the Sun Devils are still fine-tuning roles and are far from being a well-oiled machine on both ends of the floor.

Offensive help on the perimeter

Sometimes Orsillo really needs help from her friends in the backcourt.

The Sun Devils have yet to establish a consistent second option on the perimeter, as no other guard besides Orsillo averages more than 7.7 points per game (Watson).

ASU especially needs help from beyond the arc, as the Sun Devils rank eighth in the Pac-10 in 3-point field-goal percentage (28.5) and 315th in the nation in 3-point field-goals made (2.85 per game).

Watson has the ability to take the ball to the bucket from the point guard position, and Earl seems like the natural fit to knock down open shots and become a bigger vocal leader.

“She gets ‘it,’” Turner Thorne said of Earl. “She’s really kind of emerged to challenging [her teammates]. In the Stanford game, she was really trying to rally her team and bring them back.”


ASU has also been very careless with the ball at times this season, ranking 232nd in the nation in turnovers per game (19.5).

However, that number has been getting better, as the Sun Devils have turned the ball over 14.5 times during the past four games.

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