@SunDevilWBB Opens 2020-21 Season on Wednesday at 4 pm MST
WHAT: Sun Devil WBB (0-0) vs. Stephen F. Austin (0-0)
WHEN: Wednesday at 4 p.m. MST
WHERE: Desert Financial Arena • Tempe, Ariz. Note: With health and safety being the top priority, fans are currently not permitted at any sporting competition taking place on Pac-12 campuses.
LIVE STREAM: Click here
RADIO: KDUS AM 1060/Live Audio
LIVE STATS: Click here
For the first time since the first week of March, the Sun Devil women's basketball team will be in action when it opens its 2020-21 campaign with three home games as part of the Global Sports & Events Tip-off: Phoenix at Desert Financial Arena Nov. 25 - Nov. 30.
The Sun Devils (0-0) will kick off their slate on Wednesday (4 p.m. MST) when they host Stephen F. Austin. ASU will then play VCU on Friday at 4 p.m. MST and will conclude the multi-team event on Monday (4 p.m. MST) when Saint Mary's visits Desert Financial Arena.
ASU's abbreviated non-conference schedule – in addition to this week's trio of contests the Sun Devils will also host San Diego on Dec. 13 – and expanded Pac-12 schedule – for the first time since the Pac-12 expanded to 12 teams in 2011-12, teams will play each other twice – comes amid a global pandemic that forced the cancelation of the 2020 postseason last March.
THE LAST TIME
The last time the Sun Devils were in action, they were coming off a disappointing 71-67 loss to Cal in the first round of the 2020 Pac-12 Tournament (Mar. 5, 2020). Despite the setback, hopes were high in the desert of the Sun Devils making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Armed with a roster led by five talented and experienced seniors, ASU extended its school record for consecutive 20-win seasons to seven. In January, the team had already shown it was capable of playing with the nation's best teams after becoming the first unranked squad to ever defeat consecutive top-5 opponents (No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State).
ASU – and every other NCAA squad expecting to hear its name called on Selection Monday (March 16) – would have its collective hearts broken on March 12 when the NCAA announced the cancellation of winter championships, including the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament – due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The NCAA would go on to cancel all spring sports due to the pandemic. Little did anyone know back in March that the uncertainty of a return to competition for all sports would carry over into the present day.
The team started offseason workouts in July with the possibility of still being able to play a full schedule in 2020-21. ASU's non-conference slate included a return trip up north for a second 'Showdown on the Rez' game with perennial power Notre Dame providing the opposition. On Nov. 11, 2018 ASU faced No. 4 Baylor at the BeeHoldzil Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz. Working in conjunction with ASU's Office of American Indian Initiatives, 'Showdown on the Rez' served as a celebration of Native American Heritage Month and also provide a platform to recognize and honor Native Americans who served in the armed forces.
Any hopes for getting in a full season were dashed on August 11, 2020, when the Pac-12 CEO Group voted unanimously to postpone all sport competitions through the end of the 2020 calendar year.
On September 24, 2020, the Pac-12 CEO Group announced that based upon updated Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee recommendations that take into account material changes to testing capabilities, the prevalence of COVID-19 and cardiac issues, along with updated state and local health official guidance, the Conference would resume its football, basketball and winter sport seasons. Men's and women's basketball were permitted to start official competition on November 25, consistent with the NCAA's official start date for these sports, and other winter sports consistent with the NCAA season dates for those sports.
Which now brings us to the present date.
THE 2020-21 SUN DEVILS – THE RETURNERS
Although lacking in experience compared with recent Sun Devil teams, the 2020-21 edition figures to be every bit competitive as its predecessors.
This will be the second-straight season in which the Sun Devils do not return a scoring leader who averaged double figures the season before. Sophomore Eboni Walker leads the way among returners after averaging 6.5 ppg last season. Walker played in every game in 2019-20, and led the team in FG percentage (51.9), was second in offensive rebounds (2.8 rpg/seventh in the Pac-12), third in rebounds (4.8 rpg), fourth in steals (0.9 spg) and fifth in scoring (6.5 ppg). She shot 61 percent (27-44 FGs) from the floor over the last nine games of the season.
The Sun Devils return two players with starting experience in the form of juniors Jayde Van Hyfte (started all 31 games last season) and Taya Hanson (played in all 31 games with 12 starts). Van Hyfte led the team in offensive rebounds (2.9 rpg/tied for fourth in the Pac-12) last season was second in rebounds (5.0 rpg) and fourth in FG pct. (44.0). Hanson is the leader of among returners with 31 triples last season.
A 2018-19 Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention selection who has played in 64 games, Iris Mbulito has shown several flashes of brilliance during her first two seasons in Tempe. She played in every game as a freshman and led the team in free throw attempts, was second in steals (0.7 spg) and tied for fourth in assists (1.6 apg). Last season, Mbulito finished third on the team in assists (2.3 apg), fifth in steals (0.9 spg) and tied for fifth in offensive rebounds (0.7 rpg). In July 2018, Mbulito was named Most Valuable Player of the FIBA U20 Women's European Championship after helping Spain claim the gold medal.
The team's lone senior, Bre'yanna Sanders has played in 61 games over the last three seasons. In ASU's upset of second-ranked Oregon last season, Sanders supplied the team with important minutes, hitting a triple and grabbing four rebounds.
Also returning for the Sun Devils are junior Jamie Loera and sophomore Sydnei Caldwell. An outstanding 3-point shooter, Loera has been limited by injuries each of her first two seasons. Caldwell saw action in 18 games last season and will look to have an even bigger role this season.
THE 2020-21 SUN DEVILS – NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
Last season's original signing class of Maggie Besselink, Keeli Burton-Oliver, Sydney Erikstrup, Katelyn Levings and Jaddan Simmons was ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation (BlueStar Basketball).
A rising star in the Canadian national program, in the summer of 2019 Besselink was selected to Canada's U19 national team that participated in the FIBA World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand. Unfortunately she was not able to play in the tournament due to an injury suffered during the team's training camp. Besselink was ranked No. 23 at her position by ESPN.com.
Burton-Oliver, ranked No. 12 at her position by ESPN.com, displayed tremendous consistency averaging a double-double in points (17.6) and rebounds (12.6) during her 107-game high school at Eastlake High School (Sammamish, Wash).
A 2020 graduate of Beaverton High School (Beaverton, Ore.) and ranked No. 32 at her position by ESPN.com, Erikstrup was named All-State twice (second team in 2018 and honorable mention in 2020) and earned all-league all four seasons – freshman year at Lake Oswego High School and the last three years at Beaverton High School.
Ranked No. 23 at her position by ESPN.com, Levings earned All-State honors from the OGBCA (first team), The Oklahoman (honorable mention) and Tulsa World (honorable mention) for a senior season in which she averaged 15.7 ppg. for Edmond Memorial High School (Edmond, Okla.).
Simmons, ranked No. 31 at her position by ESPN.com, concluded her career high school as the all-time leading scorer in Green Bay metro history after finishing with 1,885 points (averaged 20.1 ppg for her 94-game career). The Green Bay Southwest High graduate was named to the Green Bay Press-Gazette's all-century team.
The Sun Devils added even more budding talent to their roster after signing Imogen Greenslade and Gabriela Bosquez in April.
Joining the Sun Devils all the way from Australia, Greenslade has been a member of the New South Wales U20 Team since 2019. In 2019, Greenslade helped her U20 squad win a Silver medal at the National Championships.
Bosquez transferred to ASU after playing her first two seasons at St. Edwards University (2018-19) and Blinn College (2019-20). In 2020, Bosquez earned Region XIV honors after playing in 31 games (30 starts) and averaging 11.9 points (second on the team), 3.2 assists (first on the team), 4.8 rebounds (fourth on the team) and 1.6 steals (second on the team).