ASU women's basketball looks to build off of 2019 Sweet Sixteen appearance

Coach Charli Turner Thorne will be tasked with replacing several key starters

ASU women's basketball's success in the 2019-20 season will hinge on the play of its backcourt. Last year, the Sun Devils reached the Sweet 16 thanks in part to a deep guard rotation that was led by a bevy of upperclassmen.

This year, ASU will continue to lean on its guard play to try to compete in the Pac-12 and advance further in the NCAA Tournament. 

Who is gone?

Over the offseason, ASU graduated four of its five leading scorers, including two-time all-Pac-12 forward Kianna Ibis. Ibis was an engine for the Sun Devil offense last year, scoring 14 points per game. In addition to her scoring potency, Ibis led the team in steals, blocks and free throw percentage. 

Aside from Ibis, ASU will also look to replace key contributors: guard/forward Courtney Ekmark, center Charnea Johnson-Chapman and forward Sophia Elenga.

Also gone this year will be center Eva Rubin who recently entered the transfer portal.

Key returnees

Senior guard Robbi Ryan is now the team’s leading scorer from last year, having scored 7.2 points per game in the 2018-19 season.

Ryan has started 74 games over the course of her three years with the program and will likely start for ASU at one of the guard spots.

She will likely be joined in the starting backcourt by fellow senior guard Reili Richardson who returns as the team's leader in minutes played from last season.

Richardson and Ryan headline a four-player senior class that head coach Charli Turner Thorne spoke glowingly about heading into the season opener.

“Four of them are four-year players, these guys came and from day one they got to play,” Turner Thorne said. “The great thing about this senior class is that there is nothing they haven’t seen. They’ve played the number one team on their home floor, big crowds. I feel really confident about them.”

Key newcomers

ASU's success this year will depend on its guard play. That play is contingent on three incoming freshmen: forward Eboni Walker, guard Sydnei Caldwell and guard Sara Bejedi.

Walker, a former McDonald's All-American nominee and 2018-19 Nevada's Gatorade Player of the Year, brings toughness and grit to ASU’s front line. Turner Thorne said Walker has already impressed in preseason scrimmages and will get her fair share of playing time.

In addition to Walker, Caldwell and Bejedi will look to further bolster ASU’s backcourt depth. 

Turner Thorne says that each freshman will get a chance to fight for minutes.

“I think all of them are going to be in a position to help us this year,” Turner Thorne said.

The one newcomer on the roster with prior college basketball experience is senior forward Ja’Tavia Tapley, who transferred from USC. In 91 games over the course of her career with the Trojans, Tapley averaged 4.5 points per game and 3.6 rebounds.  Tapley brings a much-needed element of size to an ASU roster with only five players on the roster listed at six feet or taller.

Despite only being in ASU’s program for a couple of months, Tapley has quickly adapted to her new teammates.

“Everything has been so positive here,” Tapley said. “It’s just causing me to be stronger, faster and wiser on the court and off the court.”

Expectations

The Sun Devils enter the season ranked No. 20 in the AP Top 25. While Turner Thorne and her team appreciate the national respect, they know preseason rankings are frivolous in terms of how the team will fare on the court.

“I’m not going to be upset about whether we are ranked here or there,” Walker said. “I don’t really pay attention to anything like that, really. Like I said, just go out there and win.”

ASU is joined by four other Pac-12 schools in the rankings including No. 1 Oregon, which returns reigning John R. Wooden Award winner, senior guard Sabrina Ionescu. In addition to Oregon, perennial power No. 3 Stanford returns a team full of postseason experience.

Schools like No. 7 Oregon State and No. 11 UCLA will also challenge ASU during conference play.

ASU’s best chance to compete in the conference will be to play a similar run-and-gun style as it played last year led by Ryan and Richardson, said sophomore forward Jayde Van Hyfte

"From a basketball standpoint, I think we are a much faster team this year," she said. "We move the ball really quickly and get fast break points. Our guards are looking to push the ball every time." 

Turner Thorne emphasized the team's guard play and said the team has more depth this year. 

“We’re pretty small, so we will be playing some small ball this year," Turner Thorne said. "We have a little more depth this year, especially at the guard position.” 

She knows that Sun Devil shooting will be a huge inflection point for the success of the team.

“We know to have a great year we have to shoot the ball well,” Turner Thorne said. “Especially this year because we are more perimeter driven.”

The team will start its season Tuesday when it takes on Air Force in Tempe at 6 p.m. MST. 


Reach the reporter at ltochter@asu.edu and follow @Leo_Toch on Twitter.

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