Ten Schools in Ten Days: Arizona State Women's Basketball Preview

Nov. 4, 2005

It has been said that the best teams don't rebuild, they just reload. Without exception, that adage holds true for the 2005-06 Arizona State University women's basketball team.

The Sun Devils enter the 2005-06 season with their sights set on extending their streak of a school-record six consecutive postseason appearances, which includes three invitations to the Big Dance, the NCAA tournament, over the last five years. And fresh off last year's incredible run to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, 10th-year head coach Charli Turner Thorne has all of the pieces in place to keep ASU in the national spotlight.

This year's squad has three starters and seven letterwinners returning from last year to complement an amazingly talented incoming class of five freshmen. Turner Thorne is excited about the balance her squad will have with its three seniors, three juniors, one sophomore, and five freshmen.

'If we can pick up where we left off, we will be where we want to be in March,' said Turner Thorne, who has become the all-time winningest coach in the history of ASU women's basketball. 'I think that last season we certainly got a taste of what it feels like to be one of the best teams in the country, and we are certainly over the hump as far as having doubts that we are one of the best teams in the country. I'm confident that we've done the things that we needed to do this off-season to progress this program and take the next step this year. We'll be a little shy on experience, losing the great senior class that we had last year, but the depth of talent that we have returning, and coming in, is as impressive as we've ever had. We have never had a team with this much talent top to bottom.'

Leading the charge will be a group of six talented upperclassmen, including seniors Amy Denson, Kristen Kovesdy and YoVanna Rosenthal and juniors Aubree Johnson, Jill Noe and Emily Westerberg. Joining that group are five skilled freshmen who will be able to complement the returning players and add a few new dimensions, especially on offense.

'Our team is going to look different than we've looked in the last few years,' Turner Thorne said. 'The turnover in players and the strengths that we have coming in is very exciting, and we're going to be a very hard team to defend. The ways that we can score and the weapons that we have are varied and deeper than we've had in the last ten years. It's really exciting from a coaching standpoint.'

Arizona State opens the 2005-06 schedule in the national spotlight, playing host to the WBCA/BTI Classic featuring Vanderbilt, Clemson and Missouri. The Sun Devils will open the season with a nationally televised contest with the Lady Commodores, a perennial stalwart in the NCAA tournament. ASU will travel to Cancun, Mexico, at the end of November for the Caribbean Classic. The tournament will feature a rematch with the North Carolina Tar Heels, the team that ended the Sun Devils' magical Sweet Sixteen run last season, and is expected to contend once again this year. Mississippi State will also participate in the tournament, rounding out the field.

Other highlights of the non-conference season include the Wells Fargo Holiday Classic, which features Memphis, Holy Cross and Western Kentucky, and a Dec. 6 home game with New Mexico. Over the past four seasons, the Sun Devils have posted an incredible .850 winning percentage in the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Arena.

The 19th season of Pac-10 Conference play begins on Dec. 22 when ASU will travel to Tucson to take on intrastate rival Arizona before returning home to host Washington and Washington State in the last week of December. The month of January will be grueling as the Sun Devils hit the road for six of their eight games with only Oregon and Oregon State visiting Tempe. ASU will play five of seven contests at home in February with UCLA, USC, Stanford, California and Arizona making stops at Wells Fargo Arena. The fifth annual State Farm Pac-10 Conference Tournament gets underway March 3-6 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., with the winner of the event earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

'Once again, we've lined up an amazing schedule this season,' Turner Thorne said. 'We lined up a tremendous preseason schedule, hosting the WBCA/BTI Classic and going to Cancun. We have a great field in our Wells Fargo Holiday Classic. We've definitely put together a schedule that will prepare us for Pac-10 play, and our postseason run'

The Backcourt

The Sun Devils have always wanted to be more of a running team, and with the addition of some key newcomers, ASU should feature a high octane, transition offense this year. With three returning players, Arizona State has both talent and experience in the backcourt.

After an outstanding freshman season, guard Reagan Pariseau is ready to take control, and lead the Sun Devils on the floor. Appearing in every game for the Sun Devils last year, Pariseau will be counted on to step up and take the helm at the point guard position following the departure of All-Pac-10 honoree Kylan Loney. In addition to finishing second on the team in three-point shooting percentage (34.6 percent), Pariseau's contributions during the NCAA tournament (2.0 assists per game, 2.0 steals per game) helped propel the Sun Devils to the third round.

'Reagan really knows what she wants,' Charli Turner Thorne said. 'She has learned a lot and worked amazingly hard this offseason to be ready to lead this team. She is a very smart, savvy floor leader. Our team is going to be in great hands.'Every team also needs senior leadership at the guard position, and ASU has that in YoVanna Rosenthal and Jill Noe. Rosenthal enters her senior year more comfortable and confident that ever, ready to step into a leadership role for her younger teammates. A great transition player, Rosenthal's hard-nosed style of defense will allow Turner Thorne to use her with several different match ups to slow down opposing offenses.

'I'm confident that she is going to be a significant force in our success this year on both ends of the floor,' says Coach Turner Thorne of Rosenthal. 'I'm going to try to utilize all of her strengths and all of her improved skill set.'After a two-year absence due to multiple knee surgeries, 2002 Pac-10 All-Freshman honoree Jill Noe returns to the court hungrier than ever to succeed. Earning two Pac-10 player of the week awards as a true freshman, Noe led the 2002-03 Devils in scoring at 12.6 points per game and her addition to the team will be immeasurable. An explosive scoring threat, she is also a reliable defender and rebounder as well.

'There is no one hungrier than Jill heading into this season. She has worked her tail off after two long term knee injuries,' says Turner Thorne. 'She is absolutely ready to be back on the court and compete at a very high level. She is definitely one of our best scorers and will be a go-to player for us.'

Freshman Briann January will fit in perfectly with the already talented array of guards. An explosive and dynamic player, January will be expected to ignite the transition game.

'Briann is so poised and very determined. I'm very impressed with her ability to be a positive floor leader and she should have an immediate impact' Coach Turner Thorne says of January.

Fellow freshman Katie Engelbrecht is a hard worker who fits perfectly with our style.

'She has really put herself in a position to give us some great basketball in her freshman campaign,' says Turner Thorne. 'Besides her poise and athleticism on the floor, what is really impressive is her ability to play without the ball in her hands, which is a rarity for an incoming freshman.'

Cristina Lopez joins the Sun Devils as a versatile, cerebral player who can contribute no matter where you put her on the floor.

'Her basketball IQ is really high,' raves Coach Turner Thorne. 'She can play multiple positions, and depending on match-ups and who we are playing, I think we are going to be able to utilize her in different ways.'

A good backcourt has to be a strong perimeter shooting team, and one of the reasons ASU has improved so much in that area is freshman Danielle Orsillo. A scorer who can sink it from anywhere, Orsillo is the type of players all coaches love.

'Danielle Orsillo can put the ball in the basket, but she can do a lot more than that. She also is a complete player. She is going to be a great defender, rebounder and passer for us,' says Charli. '. It is perfect timing for our program after we have lost so many guards to have her come in with that mentality and skill level because she will be in a position where we need her to perform. I think that's exciting for all of us.'

The Frontcourt

The strength of the Sun Devils will be in the post, where ASU has the entire frontcourt returning. In an offense that is hoping to run more than a year ago, Charli Turner Thorne can take comfort in the fact that her frontcourt players can probably outrun the other team in almost any situation.

Having talent and experience to anchor the frontcourt is a key to success and the Sun Devils have found that in senior forward Kristen Kovesdy. Towering at 6-3, Kovesdy has dominated in the low-block the past three seasons, having earned All-Pac-10 honors in each of her last two seasons. Setting the Pac-10 record for field goal percentage last year at .613, Kovesdy started all 34 games for the Sun Devils and returns an intimate knowledge of the game at the collegiate level. With the speed to beat opponents down the floor, Kovesdy is a difficult assignment for anyone on defense.

'Kristen just continues to get stronger as the season goes on. In her senior year, I know she's ready to start strong, be strong and finish strong,' says Turner Thorne.

Another hard worker down low, Amy Denson is a one of the most lethal scorers on the roster. One of the best shooters on the team, Coach Turner Thorne looks for big things from Denson.

'She's by far one of our most skilled players from a basketball standpoint, and she has worked hard on her endurance. She's ready to empty out and make this her best season ever. She's been a mainstay for us in the post for three years, and I know she is prepared to make this her best season yet.'

Fresh off of a season that earned her All-Pac-10 first-team honors, junior Emily Westerberg has worked all summer to improve every aspect of her game. Just the second sophomore in team history to earn first-team all-conference honors, Westerberg ranked first in the team in scoring and second in the team in rebounding. Not only has she improved on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, her off-season conditioning has her in the best shape of her life. With that explosiveness and versatility, it will be a tough task for opponents to attempt to contain her.

'We are going to continue to capitalize on her phenomenal versatility. She has continued to emerge as one of the top leaders of this team as only a junior,' says Turner Thorne. 'She has refined her mid-range game. She has her low-block game and three-point range, but she is continuing to evolve as a player and has worked on improving her mid-range game and her decision-making. She has an unbelievable work ethic and passion for the game.'

After a strong showing last year, Aubree Johnson hopes to pick up this season where she left off last year. Hitting game winners and guarding the other teams top player became old hat for Johnson during the second half of last season. Now she hopes to continue that trend this season.

'She was a clutch performer on both ends of the floor, taking the top defensive match-up, and being our leading rebounder. Those are all things that we are looking for Aubree to do from the beginning of the season this year, and I know she's ready to do that,' says Coach Turner Thorne.

The newcomer of the frontcourt joins the program ready to contribute from day one. Kirsten Thompson's 6-6 frame will help her become a nightmare for opposing teams.

'She's very versatile and she's a good athlete. She runs well and is going to be able to run the floor, shoot and pass from the perimeter and give a tremendous advantage in the paint with her size and range,' says Charli. 'She flat out changes the game when she's out there because of her size combined with her skill and her intellect. A huge key will be progressing with her position defense and keep her on the floor because people are going to go at her as a freshman.'

After a memorable year in 2004-05, Head Coach Charli Turner Thorne has her gang poised to make this season even more memorable.

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