Sophie Brunner developing into triple threat for ASU women's basketball

Sophomore forward Sophie Brunner drives to the basket in a game against Middle Tennessee, Friday. Nov. 14, 2014 at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Sun Devils defeated the Blue Raiders 81-67. (Photo by Ben Moffat) Sophomore forward Sophie Brunner drives to the basket in a game against Middle Tennessee, Friday. Nov. 14, 2014 at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Sun Devils defeated the Blue Raiders 81-67. (Ben Moffat/The State Press)

With a round face and a headband to keep her long hair out of her eyes, sophomore forward Sophie Brunner is not the most intimidating player to man the post.

Standing at an undersized 6 feet, 1 inch, Brunner has taken over the starting center position for ASU and is becoming part of the heart of the team's game.

“She’s played All-American defense,” said ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne.

This comes against high-caliber Pac-12 big women including Oregon’s Jillian Alleyne, OSU’s Ruth Hamblin and Cal’s Reshanda Gray.

In four games against these players, she has held them all below their point and rebound averages. Gray, who she’s played twice, averages 17.8 points and seven rebounds on the season; against Brunner, she averages 13.5 points and three rebounds.

Junior guard Elisha Davis said that though Brunner's smaller than most opponents, she outworks them.

“Her willingness to work harder than her opponent has really given her the edge,” she said.

The undersized forward is becoming a bully down low. Manning the post, she bodies up the offensive player well. More impressive is her ability to move.

ASU’s defense stems around forcing bad passes and creating turnovers. Brunner’s a huge part of this. She has shown expertise in rotating around the offensive player and jumping into passing lanes to force turnovers.

She said she does this through good footwork and playing quicker than her opponent. She has to communicate with the guards to know which defense they’re using and get in good position.

In a losing effort to Cal on Sunday, she came away with seven steals. She also had nine rebounds, four of which were on the offensive glass.

“I just really focus on footwork and timing,” she said. “I usually can read well when my teammates are going to shoot so I just try to get position early.”

Brunner has experimented with what’s legal and what’s not. While fighting for position, if she’s caught behind her defender, she often gives a tiny shove. Her opponent stumbles forward a little and Brunner’s able to get in better position.

“In practice we go against guys, our scout team,” she said.

She said they’re big and some are stronger than the girls. She said it helps her learn “positioning and hitting first and creating space to get the ball,” along with figuring out how to legally body her opponent out of the way.

Brunner’s a big part of holding down opponent’s scores and grabbing the ball for ASU. She has also turned into a fundamental piece of ASU’s offense.

Much of the game plan revolves around her jostling for position in the paint and working the post. When she’s on her game, it’s tough to stop ASU.

She’s even developing a go-to move.

“I usually like going to my left hook,” she said

She often uses it when she’s on the right side of the key. She backs down her defender, spins around to the left and puts up a left-handed hook. It’s becoming a key part of her arsenal.

From post plays, she gets to the free throw line a lot. Davis has taken note of this.

“Her free throw shots have become very clutch,” she said.

Davis said Brunner “puts herself in pressure situations in practice.” She becomes accustomed to hitting big-time free throws and it reflects in her game.

The one aspect of practice that isn’t reflecting in the game is her shooting.

“She is a better shooter than she has shown this year,” she said.

Turner Thorne said Brunner is missing the “shooter’s mentality.” A true shooter can miss nine shots and want to take the tenth; Brunner misses one and then begins looking to pass.

She passes well — Turner Thorne said her perimeter skills attracted the team to her during the recruitment process. She can even be “a little too unselfish,” Turner Thorne said. Overall, though, the coach is pleased.

“When teams key in on her, she doesn’t force things,” she said.

Davis remarked that her confidence has been rising.

“She’s becoming more confident in herself and she’s starting to take a few outside shots if the post is sagging off of her.”

Davis said her ability to attack the defense’s help side and initiate contact are two of her biggest traits that help the offense.

“It makes me feel comfortable just to pass it to her,” she said.

This, along with her work ethic, explains the strong improvement from last season’s 7.6 points per game average. She only averages about four more minutes each game, but puts up the same difference in points.

She was awarded Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for her performances during the week of Jan. 4-10.

“She’s growing into a good young leader in our program,” Turner Thorne said.


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