Seven games into season, ASU women's basketball has yet to find its identity

Concentrating on defense may be the key to ASU's identity issues

Last year, head coach Charli Turner Thorne’s team always had a good sense of what it was. And when a group is built around juniors and seniors, it's no surprise the circumstances played in the team's favor. 

Combined with a difficult schedule, the Sun Devils used veteran leadership and defensive excellence en route to a Sweet 16 appearance.

But now those seniors, Kianna Ibis, Courtney Ekmark, Sophia Elenga and Charnea Johnson-Chapman, are all gone. All four players were not just the backbone of the defense or the faces of the frontcourt, but also embodied the identity of ASU.

Seven games into this season, it’s pretty clear ASU hasn’t found its identity. Well, at least not quite yet.

“We have a very young team and honestly, we need to have better practice habits,” Turner Thorne said. “I don’t really know who they are.”

Defense is the cornerstone of Turner Thorne’s philosophy. For the head coach, toughness, fundamentals and holding your own on the glass on that side of the ball are the true keys to success.

“We aren't working hard enough, we aren't connected enough," Turner Thorne said.

Take last year’s team as an example. After allowing just 58.2 points per contest last year, Turner Thorne’s team surrendered 80 points against Minnesota in its first true test of the season. 

"I definitely learned a lot from the seniors who graduated last year," ASU sophomore forward Jayde Van Hyfte said. "From that experience last year I definitely know how the game works."

And offensively, the Sun Devils have shot under 40% in each of their last two contests, hitting only a combined five threes during that stretch. This comes after ASU had 86 more shot attempts than their Pac-12 foes during conference play last year, which featured five other NCAA Tournament teams. 

It may be too early to judge, but this year’s team has yet to find that true strength.

But there have been bright spots. Senior graduate transfer Ja’Tavia Tapley has become a star in the making. ASU’s backcourt depth is a definite plus and the team speed is certainly stronger than it was a year ago.

The lack of consistency on both sides of the floor could be indicative of ASU's youth this season.   

"We want to have each others' backs, but we have to commit to that," ASU sophomore guard Taya Hanson said. "When you talk that holds you accountable to what you're trying to do."

But that’s not to say that Turner Thorne’s group can’t find that right groove in the near future. 

After ASU’s 14-point loss to Minnesota, Hanson said the team practiced, "Lots and lots of defense," an emphasis that Turner Thorne affirmed.

"In case anybody didn't know, we worked on defense this week," Turner Thorne said after the win over Cal Poly.

Given the results since the Minnesota game, there’s a chance that ASU has found something on that end of the floor. 

Over the past four games, ASU held each of its opponents to under 61 points. A solid defensive showing despite not playing a single ranked opponent in that stretch.

So, could that be ASU’s identity this year? Who knows. But before conference play starts, they’ll need to find that identity soon.


Reach the reporter at kbriley@asu.edu and on Twitter @KokiRiley.

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