(Photo: Tyler Rittenhouse/WCSN)
The Arizona State women’s basketball team was back on the court Sunday afternoon for its first game action since a bitter loss last March to the eventual national champion, South Carolina Gamecocks. The Sun Devils rolled against the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) at Wells Fargo Arena 74-42 in a complete team victory.
“First game jitters aside, I think we did a pretty good job of honoring the day,” ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “I thought it was a good team win.”
In Sunday’s contest, 10 of the 11 players on ASU’s roster tallied points with junior guard Sabrina Haines and junior forward Kiana Ibis leading the way. Both had 16 points and Ibis produced a career-high in points while falling just one rebound shy of a double-double.
“It was nice to be able to spread out our minutes,” Turner Thorne said. “It was good to be able to spread the minutes out a little bit.”
The Devils are coming off of a season in which they lost pivotal post presences such as Sophie Brunner and Quinn Dornstauder.
One question mark going into this season was how the Sun Devils might be able to replace these players, but on Sunday the team answered the bell thanks to key contributions from Ibis and junior center Charnea Johnson-Chapman.
Johnson-Chapman finished the game with eight points and seven rebounds while shooting 4-6 from the field.
“I could not be happier or more proud of Kiana Ibis and Charnea Johnson-Chapman for different reasons,” Turner Thorne said. “For Kiana, just overcoming her incredibly bad knee injury, and this is the healthiest that she has been … It has taken her a while to get to this point.”
Both Johnson-Chapman and Ibis provided dividends throughout the afternoon on the inside, as ASU out-rebounded UTSA 42-31.
“They were open, so we had to get them the ball,” Haines said. “They did their thing.”
Ibis added to that point.
“We always have an emphasis on going inside and going inside or outside,” Ibis said. “Every time we get paint touches, it makes our offense do really well. Going in the paint is what we emphasize on.”
Aside from Ibis and Johnson-Chapman, there was a new look in the Sun Devils lineup on Sunday afternoon-Redshirt junior forward Courtney Ekmark.
Ekmark started in Sunday’s matchup against UTSA, and she finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds and an assist.
Ekmark is a local product from Arcadia, Arizona, who transferred back home to ASU after winning two national titles as a member of the UCONN Huskies. Ekmark had to sit out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules, but she was back on the court on Sunday and did not disappoint.
“She is absolutely tough as nails,” Turner Thorne said of Ekmark. “She can play hard when she is tired. A lot of our younger players get tired … Courtney, she is just relentless and she can play hard for however long she has to play. That level of toughness is really going to help us.”
In the second half, Ekmark stormed out of the locker room and put up four straight points and an assist to Haines.
“She brings great leadership, and also, she is a great player,” Haines said. “She can shoot the lights out of the ball, and along with that, she’s a great leader so she helps talk everybody through things, so I think she has been a great addition to our team.”
Among a couple of other players who donned the maroon and gold for the first time on Sunday were freshman forward Bre’yanna Sanders and freshman center Eva Rubin.
Rubin and Sanders both tallied their first collegiate points with Sanders sinking a three in the first half while Rubin put up four points from the post.
“I think they were less nervous than some of the returners,” Turner Thorne said of her freshmen. “They just kind of went out and played … I was very pleased with their minutes.”
While ASU had a complete team victory on Sunday, there was one player who did not see minutes–sophomore forward Jamie Ruden.
Ruden missed all of ASU’s Pac-12 regular season games with a foot injury last year, but she returned for the Sun Devils in the postseason and contributed 8.5 points per game in the Pac-12 tournament.
On Sunday, she participated in warm-ups, but she did not take the floor in the game.
“We are working her back,” Turner Thorne said. “It’s game-by-game, so she could be back sooner rather than later, which would be an unbelievable addition, especially offensively.”
Aside from the action on the court, Sunday’s home-opener served as a special day for the ASU women’s basketball team as ASU honored the armed forces in their Salute to Service game, and a large crowd was in attendance at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I was really just honored with how many people came out for our Salute to Service game … We always want to have a great crowd to honor our military,” Turner Thorne said. “Obviously, the military presence was fantastic.”
Up next, ASU will hit the road for the first time this season when they take on Fresno State at 4 p.m. MST.
“It’s November 12th. We can get better at everything … There is not an area that we can not get better at,” Turner Thorne said. “That will be a very tough game against a good, high mid-major Division I team … It’s a really tough place to play so it will be a really great test for us.”