(Photo Credit: Steve Rodriguez, Sun Devil Athletics)
While most people will be preparing to eat an unhealthy amount of turkey and mashed potatoes, the Arizona State women’s basketball team will be preparing to play in the Cancun Challenge in Cancun, Mexico.
The Sun Devils will face their toughest test of the season, playing Illinois, No. 11 North Carolina, and Arkansas State in three consecutive days.
“You basically [play three games in three days] maybe twice a year. Now, and then your conference tournament. So it’s not something you really prepare for,” Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “It’s gonna be a total toughness week. It’s all about – we talked about ‘psychological warfare.’ ”
ASU’s first game will come against Illinois. The Fighting Illini are averaging 92.4 points per game, good enough for ninth in the nation. They set a school record for most points scored in a game during their 112-28 victory over Alcorn State.
Illinois is led by senior guard Amber Moore. Moore is Illinois’ career three-point leader with 233 three-point field goals made. She was recently named Big Ten Player of the Week on November 18th which included a dominating 27 point, 19 rebound performance against Mississippi State Valley two weeks ago.
“They’re just very talented. The key for us is just knowing their personnel. I think each of their players likes to score in certain ways, and if we can come in and be smart about what we’re doing, we should be good,” Turner Thorne said.
The following day, ASU will face-off against the No. 11 North Carolina Tar Heels. Carolina is coming in on a three-game winning streak, and will look to continue that success this weekend.
The Tar Heels are led by a roster that lacks a single senior. However, freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga has splashed onto the scene, twice being named the ACC Rookie of the Week. Mavunga is currently the ACC leader in blocks, with three per game, and field goal percentage, shooting 65.9 percent so far this season.
“They’re young, but super talented. We haven’t played them for a few years, had some great games with them over the years,” Turner Thorne said. “They’re younger than they’ve been in the past, so it’s just a fun opportunity. Great program, great tradition, excited to have the opportunity to play them.”
“It’s cool that teams are ranked and stuff. They’ve obviously worked for that, but we play the games for a reason,” redshirt senior guard Deja Mann said. “Just take them like anyone else.”
The final game will come against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves are led by redshirt sophomore Aundrea Gamble’s 21.4 points per game this season. She recently posted 30 points and 10 rebounds against Missouri State.
“I can tell you that Arkansas State, I mean they just beat Louisiana Tech on their home floor by 30-plus. They’re good,” Turner Thorne said.
Although the Sun Devils have started off the season well, the teams they will face in the tournament will be the toughest competition they will play up to this point. To make matters more challenging, all three games will be within 24 hours of each other.
“They’re all very high-scoring teams that are very good and I think we are too, and I know it’s going to come down to defense and rebounding,” Turner Thorne said. “It’s going to come down to toughness, so we’ll see where we’re at.”
“It will be a big challenge for us, but I know that we’re really looking forward to it. It will be good competition for us so we’re really looking forward to playing each of the three teams,” freshman forward Kelsey Moos said.
The Sun Devils will likely lean on the efforts of Mann as she leads the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game. She has been shooting an efficient 51.4 percent from the field and is also the Sun Devils’s leading three-point shooter.
ASU also hopes that Moos will continue her strong play. She is the team’s leading rebounder with 7.5 boards per game and is coming off a solid performance against Providence racking up her first career double-double.
“I think the biggest adjustment would be the speed of the game. It’s a lot faster, obviously, than high school basketball. AAU gets you a little prepared for it, but nothing is like the real thing,” Moos said.
As a whole, the Cancun Challenge will be a high-quality opportunity to see where the Sun Devils are at as a team against strong competition.
“I’m excited because I just know that we’re going to learn a lot and have some great opportunities this weekend with our team, and my Spanish isn’t that good,” Turner Thorne said.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org