ASU Women’s Basketball: Sun Devils embark on new era

ASU women’s basketball begins a new era after one of the most successful senior classes in program graduated with the backcourt looking to carry the mantle.

After one of the most successful senior classes of Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder, Kelsey Moos and Sara Hattis led the program to 98 wins and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Sun Devils enter a new era.

Arizona State’s team is unique this season as it features zero seniors and five juniors.

The junior class is led by guard Sabrina Haines, who will look to take a step forward in her shot-making ability after averaging 6.9 points per game and 36 percent shooting last season.

Known for being one of the most stout defenders in the Pac-12, Haines’ offensive numbers improved towards the end of last season recording 17 points against Washington State in February, averaging 13.0 PPG in the Pac-12 Tournament and 13.5 PPG in the NCAA Tournament.

If Haines can consistently be productive offensively, she could be one of the best all-around guards in the conference.

Another junior looking to make an impact is forward Courtney Ekmark, who will make her Sun Devil debut this season after sitting out last season due to transfer rules.

The UConn transfer and St. Mary’s High School product will look to play a big role this season after receiving limited playing time with the Huskies.

The former Arizona Gatorade High School Player of the Year averaged 19.6 PPG, 5.0 rebounds per game and 4.0 steals per game in high school, and will look to provide the Sun Devils with a lot of production from the small forward position.

Last season, the big question coming into the campaign was how ASU was going to replace the seniors in the backcourt with the freshmen class having big shoes to fill.

This season, the same conversation will be had in the frontcourt after the departures of Brunner, Dornstauder and Moos.

Three forwards to watch is sophomore Jamie Ruden and juniors Kianna Ibis and Charnea Johnson-Chapman.

Ruden missed the majority of her freshman season due to a foot injury as she made a surprising return into the rotation during the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Rochester, Minnesota native opened eyes to what her potential could be with a 12-point performance against UCLA in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Ruden is a stretch-four, who be relied upon to grab key rebounds and to make shots from the perimeter.

Ibis will also see extended minutes this season as she is another stretch forward who can make shots from behind the three-point arc and is a strong rebounder.

Johnson-Chapman, who averaged 6.8 minutes per game last season, will be a key player to watch this season as she enters a crucial year in her development looking to provide valuable minutes in the paint.

ASU also welcome in freshman forward Bre’yanna Sanders and center Eva Rubin, as well as junior college transfer Sophia Elenga, who will look to provide depth in the frontcourt.

Looking to make life easier for the new-look frontcourt is a trio of sophomore guards in Reili Richardson, Robbi Ryan and Kiara Russell.

Richardson seized the starting point guard role last season breaking a school record for assists in a single-season by a freshman (126) and was named a Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention.

Her vision on the court was praised frequently by head coach Charli Turner Thorne, and now having a year of experience playing in the toughest conference in the country, Richardson should only improve this season.

While also averaging 28.3 minutes per game last season, Richardson played with the U.S. FIBA U-19 World Cup team this summer, where she earned a silver medal and had a chance to play with and against some of the best players in the world in her age group.

Ryan and Russell will look provide sparks off the bench as both received a lot of plenty time due to injuries last season.

Russell, who missed a month with a quad injury last season, averaged 4.4 points per game and 1.8 assists per game last season, and is destined to see an increase in those numbers.

Ryan received a lot of playing time (23.0 minutes per game) due to Moos’ injury mid-season, and played well averaging 6.5 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game last season.

The young backcourt, now having gone through the grind of a college basketball season, should be more fitted for the workload as they will be heavily relied upon this season.

While Turner Thorne preaches defense first, the Sun Devils might have their deepest pool of perimeter shooters with a potential starting lineup of Richardson, Haines, Ekmark, Ruden and Ibis all having the ability to pull up from behind the arc and make threes.

Arizona State, who was the lowest scoring team in the Pac-12 last season (63.8 PPG), will need to be able to converts shots from the perimeter and behind the three-point line.

Last season, Turner Thorne at times mentioned that she felt her perimeter players would pass up open shots to get the ball in the paint to Brunner and Dornstauder.

With both players graduated, ASU will need to make their perimeter shots at a consistent rate in order to be successful this season.

During her time with Team USA this summer, Richardson took 19 shots with 11 of those coming from behind the arc, and that’s a good sign for Turner Thorne and the Sun Devils that she is starting to gain confidence in her three-point shooting.

Arizona State should be able to put up much better numbers shooting the ball this season, as they will continue to employ Turner Thorne’s defensive philosophy.

The Sun Devils will look to compete for a Pac-12 championship this season in which the conference is shaping up to be the toughest and best in the nation.

UCLA and Oregon are the favorites as both return the majority of their starters, with Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State all with ASU right behind them.

The Sun Devils schedule is condensed with games coming thick and fast in the beginning as ASU will play seven games in 14 days to open up the season, including three games in the Cancun Challenge versus national runner-up Mississippi State on Thanksgiving, followed by games versus Green Bay and Columbia in the following two days.

The next marquee non-conference game will be on Dec. 10 when the Sun Devils travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State in what will be the third meeting between the two schools in the last four seasons.

ASU will come back home to host Idaho and Arkansas to wrap up the non-conference slate before opening up Pac-12 play Dec. 29 at Colorado.

Arizona State will face each Pac-12 team twice except USC and UCLA, who the Sun Devils will only place once on Feb. 9 and 11 in southern California.

The conference season will end at Wells Fargo Arena Feb. 25 versus Oregon State with the Sun Devils heading to Seattle for the Pac-12 Tournament March 1.

The Sun Devils should be an NCAA Tournament team this season, but their perimeter shooting and the new frontcourt will dictate how good this team can really be.