ASU headed for tropics on Turkey Day

11-26-08 Women's Basketball
Senior guard Kate Engelbrecht shoots past Cleveland State senior guards Dominique Butler, No. 44, and Natalie Miller at Wells Fargo Arena on Tempe Campus. (Lindy Mapes/The State Press)
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Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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The words “business trip” and “Bahamas” are rarely used in the same sentence.

But that is exactly how the ASU women’s basketball team is describing its Thanksgiving weekend, as the No. 21 Sun Devils (2-1) will travel to the Bahamas to play in the Junkanoo Jam.

ASU will first square off against Hofstra on Friday, followed by a contest against either Southern Illinois or Florida on Saturday.

Participating in a Thanksgiving tournament has become a tradition at ASU, allowing the Sun Devils to play good nonconference competition on a neutral floor while visiting some beautiful places around the world.

“If you’re not going to be with your family [on Thanksgiving], you might as well go somewhere that’s fun to visit,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said.

The Sun Devils are coming off of their first loss of the season against No. 4 Oklahoma last Friday and have spent the last three practices regrouping and learning from the experience of playing a top team on the road.

“It’s good to get that first loss out of the way, to have that nasty taste in your mouth that you never want again,” junior guard Dymond Simon said. “I’m glad that we got to play [OU] to really see what we have to work on.”

And Turner Thorne said she is very pleased with how the team has responded to the loss during this week’s workouts.

“We’ve come back and we’ve worked very hard and progressed offensively,” she said. “We’re trying to get to the point where we’re playing to our strengths for this year’s team, and we’re getting there.”

Hofstra has lost to Iona, Boston College and Manhattan.

But despite its winless start, Turner Thorne does not expect the contest with the Pride to be any sort of a cakewalk.

“They’re [a] very aggressive, good offensive team,” she said. “They shoot the [3-pointer] well, they can take you off the dribble and their post players can finish if you let them get the ball.”
One of those post players is freshman Joelle Connelly, who has already established a presence on the inside by leading the Pride in scoring (14.7 points per game) and rebounding (10.3 per game).

“She’s a legitimate Pac-10-[style] post,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s got good size [and] she’s athletic. [If] you play behind her, it’s two points.”

The Sun Devils also have a strong group of inside players, with senior center Sybil Dosty leading that group with 11.7 points and seven rebounds per game.

While ASU senior guard Briann January is still the rock of the team, the surprise of the early season has been Simon. She has led the Sun Devils in scoring the past two games, and Turner Thorne said she has also improved her floor leadership and defense in the second season following her 2007 knee surgery.

“She’s moving great [and] she’s breaking people’s ankles,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s looking to be very aggressive offensively, which is what we want her to do.”

While the main purpose of this weekend is to win two games, the trip won’t be completely without fun and games. The Sun Devils will have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday and will get to enjoy their beach surroundings on Sunday.

“You just kind of soak it in,” January said. “You take in your environment [and] you live it up. We get a little vacation out of it.”

But before hitting the surf and sand, the Sun Devils need to pick up a pair of victories.

“We’re not going to have fun on Sunday if we don’t take care of business Friday and Saturday,” Turner Thorne said. “The hardest part of these trips is you’re in this beautiful place and you want to experience it, but you really have to wait.”

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