The San Diego State women’s basketball season is here after an unusual summer.
After last year’s first round Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to Utah State, head coach Stacie Terry-Hutson said the team is not utilizing it as fuel for this season because of the events that transpired following the shutdowns caused by the pandemic.
“We’re actually not using that for motivation to be quite honest,” Terry-Hutson said. “Our motivation this year is going to be from how easily things can be taken away and we can’t take things for granted. We appreciate things so much more with COVID-19 taking so much from our year.”
Here are three observations for the upcoming season.
1. SDSU has more newcomers than returners but are building unity early and often
The team’s chemistry is one of the biggest challenges entering the year. SDSU welcomes eight newcomers to the program.
Terry-Hutson, who is entering her eighth season as head coach, said the team has been coming together before the season begins.
“I was concerned about our chemistry because we have such a new team,” Terry-Hutson said. “That being said, I think they are in such a fantastic place, they respect each other, they are challenging each other and trying to get better every single day. So our chemistry probably has been better than it’s ever been, which is ironic during this time and our lack to be around each other physically.”
Three of the eight newcomers are junior transfers in forward Ivvana Murrillo, along with guards Alex Crain and Mercedes Staples.
On Nov. 18, the program announced Staples received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately.
An excited Terry-Hutson said Staples will take an active role as it adds to the team’s depth.
“She’s such a good ball player, has a great IQ, just a really talented young lady,” Terry-Hutson said. “It also helps with our depth. It gives us another body, another player so we can do different things, plan different schemes because we’re going to be a little deeper than we’ve ever been in the past.”
Junior guard Sophia Ramos, who was picked to the preseason All-MWC team said the transfers have adjusted to SDSU’s style.
“They’ve really gelled well with us,” Ramos said. “Luckily, Mercedes was a mid-year, so we were able to get to know her a little bit earlier. I think we’re such an easy group to mesh with. We are all pretty relaxed, like to have fun and hang out. Them coming in with us has been pretty easy. It’s been an easy transition.”
In addition to three juniors, the Aztecs welcome five freshmen, highlighted by guard Asia Avinger, who was named preseason All-MWC Freshman of the Year.
Senior guard Téa Adams said Avinger and the other freshmen have been learning and cannot wait for the season to begin.
“I know they are very hungry because this year wasn’t promised, so I think they are just thankful to be playing,” Téa Adams said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what (freshman guard/forward Kim Villalobos) brings on the rebounding end. She has been doing really well on the boards in practice. Asia has been meshing very well in leading the offense, driving and facilitating for all of us.”
2. Aztecs look to rejuvenate rebounding plans with newcomers and returners
SDSU lost three key rebounders from last year, but one returns from injury.
Sophomore forward Mallory Adams, who was granted a redshirt this offseason after suffering two injuries, will return in 2020-21.
Ramos, Terry-Hutson and Téa Adams are excited to see Mallory Adams back on the court.
Téa Adams said the MWC will need to beware of Mallory Adams’ return.
“The conference better watch out because she’s coming in with a full head of steam and we’re all very excited to have her back,” Téa Adams said. “I think this is going to be a great year for her and for all of us, especially with her back.”
During Mallory Adams’ freshman season in 2018-19, she averaged a team-high 8.9 rebounds, which included posting 16 rebounds against then-No. 2 seed New Mexico in an upset win in the MWC Tournament quarterfinals.
Ramos said she can not wait to play with her All-MWC Freshman teammate as both received the honor two seasons ago.
“Getting to play with the person I came with and in my class is going to be so much fun again,” Ramos said. “I know she’s been working really hard so it’s been really nice to see her progress from both injuries. I think a lot of people are counting her out because of it. I’m excited to be her number one fan again and have her back on the court.”
In addition to Mallory Adams and Villalobos, one of the standouts among the players in the early going is senior forward Kiara Edwards.
“Kiara has probably been the biggest surprise out of everybody,” Terry-Hutson said. She’s healthy, working hard, made great strides and worked her way into a position where she’s really going to contribute this year.”
Last season’s rebounding scheme took shape with the bigs boxing out and the guards flying in.
Terry-Hutson said the guards will continue to rebound and have been working on it in the days leading up to the season opener.
“We’re going to see a lot of that from our guards and their numbers increase,” Terry-Hutson said. “Just making sure that is a priority for us and we’ve been pushing it in practice quite a bit.”
Sophomore guard/forward Isabela Hernandez said she and her teammates are learning and adjusting to rebounding more this year.
“A lot more of us are going to have to rebound,” Hernandez said. “A lot of us taller guards didn’t need to rebound as much last year, so we are going to have to grow and get used to that role.”
Téa Adams said the addition of assistant coach Marsha Frese has elevated and expanded the team’s rebounding strategy from last season.
“She emphasizes how we need to be better on the boards and also getting more plays, pushing the ball and increasing our amount of touches offensively,” Téa Adams said. “She’s changing the game a little bit and applying a lot of pressure on what we need to do better.”
3. Scarlet and Black flexible with ‘at least’ eight guards
Offensively, the Aztecs will be led by Ramos and Téa Adams. The duo averaged a combined 32.3 minutes per game last season and will be relied on to continue that in 2020-21.
Téa Adams said she wants the team to succeed despite the curve balls that have already been thrown.
“My expectations are high,” Téa Adams said. “It’s 2020. We have a lot of unknown, but what we do know is that we’ve worked hard and have a strong group of women and I think that with what we have been given, we’ve dealt with it and we’re excited.”
Ramos said she wants to continue to build her arsenal heading into her third season on Montezuma Mesa.
“Like everyone else for their expectations for themselves, mine are just high,” Ramos said. “There’s a lot of areas I want to improve. Whether that’s increasing assists and helping get more people open looks, continuously increasing my rebounds. I think those areas are more of an emphasis for me this year and then of course finding new ways to score.”
Behind Ramos and Téa Adams on the depth chart are at least six guards.
Ramos said having a big number of guards on the team will be beneficial because of rest and having the ability to move players like chess pieces.
“We play a lot through our guards, but I think it is going to be really helpful,” Ramos said. “I think it will be super helpful to get fresh legs in a little bit quicker and it will be fun to watch. A faster pace game with so many guards being able to push the ball and seeing all of us be interchangeable is going to be something that can be really big for us.”
Téa Adams said the Aztecs, who were picked to finish fourth this year, are working hard to surprise the MWC.
“I think that it’s time to shock the conference,” Téa Adams said. “I’m excited for this year and despite the circumstances that we’ve been presented, we’re all very head strong and very determined for this to be our year.”
SDSU begins the season Nov. 25 in the South Point Thanksgiving Classic against Washington in Las Vegas at 7 p.m.