Charli Turner Thorne enjoying her sabbatical

Charli Turner Thorne showed up at basketball practice last week and spent some time talking to her players. That, in and of itself, shouldn't be an unusual thing.

But given the situation, it was plenty different for everyone.

The Arizona State coach didn't stay, don a whistle or order up a drill. She came, said 'Hi' and left.

Turner Thorne is just a few months away from the end of a one-year sabbatical she began last spring, a year she felt so strongly she needed, away from her Sun Devils program.

She needed to be, to use her word, "unplugged."

"I am going to be back doing all of the things I usually do in no time, and I really have been so at peace about not being a part of this season," Turner Thorne said. "They are playing games, and I obviously want them to do well. But I haven't been around.

"I absolutely don't want to be a mama bear. This is a season that I'm not a part of. But I have tried to let the girls know I love them."

Turner Thorne has spent time with her other loves -- her husband and three boys, ages 12, 10 and 8. They have traveled and hung out at home and done things they had never been able to do as a family when mom was a major college basketball coach.

"We went to Flagstaff to the snow and went sledding and built a snowman and had a snowball fight," she said.

Turner Thorne has run clinics overseas, started a leadership academy, is coaching her son's middle school team and ramped up her involvement as the president of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

"I'm not a sit-around-the-house type of girl," Turner Thorne said. "But I've been floating around and reconnecting with people and reading and writing. I have been working a lot on myself personally, doing yoga and meditation and doing things to maintain my balance."

The process of achieving that balance has included paring back some of her other commitments.

"Before this, I didn't feel like I was taking care of myself. I was working all the time, and I don't want to fall back into that when I come back," Turner Thorne said. "I have a balance, and now I know what that looks and feels like. I feel like I can come back and be in a much better place."

Turner Thorne returns to her team in April. The Sun Devils currently are playing under interim head coach Joseph Anders, a longtime assistant. ASU is 11-5 but has hit a rough patch in conference play, losing three of four.

Anders has called his job "filling the gap."

Turner Thorne said when she returns there will be "some restructuring in responsibilities of my staff.

"I know that I'm going to work every day and that's OK, I never had a problem with that," she said. "But you can't work every second of your life. You need time to regroup. I think I've really maximized this opportunity to figure that out."

Five on the marquee

Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee. In what is going to be a recurring theme this week, the Lady Vols senior forward is first up among key players on top teams nursing an injury. Stricklen suffered a sprained right knee in Sunday's game against Vanderbilt. Her status is "day to day." Tennessee surely would like to get her back on the floor in time for Monday's big matchup at Notre Dame.

Nneka Ogwumike, Stanford. Ogwumike went down early in Stanford's easy 80-54 win over Colorado on Saturday, turning an ankle and leaving the floor. She returned midway through the half and finished with 15 points. She should be ready to play this week against the Washington schools, and coach Tara VanDerveer pointed out that the Cardinal are not a one-player team. But she is the player Stanford could least afford to see limping off to the bench.

Elena Delle Donne, Delaware. The Blue Hens star missed most of the first half with a leg injury, but came back on the floor, played 22 minutes and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds in a road win over Northeastern on Sunday.

North Carolina. The proud Tar Heels program is going to have to regroup after a rough stretch that includes three straight losses after a 12-2 start. The run was punctuated Monday night with the worst loss in program history, 86-35 to No. 3 Connecticut.

Brittney Griner, Baylor. The national player of the year front-runner not only averaged 30 points a game last week in her team's wins over Oklahoma State and Texas, but she collected 11 blocks and moved into the No. 3 spot on the NCAA Div. I career blocks list with 483.

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Brittany Rayburn, Purdue. The senior guard tied an NCAA record with 12 3-pointers Thursday night against Minnesota (38 points total). She followed with 14 points against Iowa on Sunday, including two free throws to give her team the lead, then a block to seal the 57-55 win.

Liz Donohoe, Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls freshman forward led her team to its first win over Oklahoma in the past nine matchups with a team-high 14 points Saturday. Earlier last week, she finished with 19 points and eight rebounds against top-ranked Baylor.

Rebekah Gardner, UCLA. The team that once was solidly implanted as the No. 2 team in the Pac-12 is struggling under the weight of many key injuries. The Bruins are 2-3 in the Pac-12, 7-9 overall, including a 47-43 loss to rival USC on Saturday. But Gardner, the senior guard, has taken on a big scoring load, posting five 20-plus-point games this season.

St. Mary's College (CA). The Gaels pulled off one of the program's biggest upsets Saturday in Spokane, knocking off perennial West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga 66-63 on the Zags' home court. The victory ended a 17-game winless streak in the head-to-head matchup (first win since 2004) and ended Gonzaga's home-court win streak at 34 games. St. Mary's is 14-5 on the season and 5-1 in conference play, now tied with the Zags and BYU for first place in the WCC.

Chelsea Poppens, Iowa State. The junior forward and Waterloo, Iowa, native is second in the Big 12 in double-doubles this season with seven, trailing only Griner. And she's the Big 12's leading rebounder at 11.4 per game.

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