Pac-12 preview: Arizona State University

This is the tenth in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams for the upcoming season.

Charli Turner Thorne proved herself again last year.

After a sabbatical during the 2011-2012 season that left some angry and the rest doubting her, the Sun Devil’s coach for 17 seasons again took her team to the NCAA Tournament last year, where they went to the second round. They tied for fourth in the conference, which is around where Turner Thorne has had them for most of her tenure.

This year the question is what Arizona State will do after losing two starters – the top two scorers – and one key reserve. So far, Turner Thorne and her coaching staff are trying to breed consistency and defense.

“We’d like to establish some consistent scorers within our core group,” she said. “In our opinion as coaches, that is what needs to evolve to help separate ourselves and be better than we were last year.”

“We are committed to being a better defensive team than we have been the last couple of years.”

Returning starters are sophomore forwards Sophie Brunner (7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds per game) and Kelsey Moos (7.3 points, 6.6 rebounds per game), and senior guard Promise Amukamara (6.9 points per game). Junior guard Katie Hempen (8.3 points per game) and junior guard Elisha Davis (5.4 points per game) are also back.

The good news for ASU is that they play team basketball. Departed players didn’t score that much more than the rest of the roster, and there wasn’t a lot of separation between scoring averages from one end of the bench to the other. Thus, it will be easier to make replacements, and it could be dangerous for opponents if several players step up this year.

The Sun Devils will also be boosted by a stellar class of newcomers.

Joining them is junior guard Peace Amukamara, the sister of Promise. She transfers from Mesa Community College, where she helped lead the program to an NJCAA Division II Championship for the first time last season, and was the player of the year. Other newcomers include freshman center Ayanna Edwards, who was 14th at her position in her class; guard/forward Nicole Iademarco, the 36th-ranked guard; and guard Tia Kanoa, who helped her teams in California and Hawaii win state titles.

Turner Thorne is clear that she and her team’s eyes are on going dancing next spring.

“Expectations for ASU women’s basketball are always very high,” she said. “We expect to win a lot, we expect to compete for the Pac-12 championship – we absolutely think we have a team that can do that this year – and we really want to advance in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Sun Devils open their season Nov. 14 with a tough opponent in Middle Tennessee. They also face Miami, SMU, and could face either Georgia Tech or Green Bay in a Thanksgiving Tournament. They open Pac-12 play at home Jan. 3, as they host the University of Washington.