Arizona State’s Courtney Ekmark ready to return to familiar March setting

Mar 15, 2018, 7:15 AM

TEMPE, Ariz. — In the middle of a packed theater at the Carson Student Athlete Center on Selection Monday, Courtney Ekmark and the ASU women’s basketball team received the news that they would be back in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, with ASU receiving the No. 7 seed in the Austin Regional.

For Ekmark, the wait and anticipation of playing in the tournament has been long overdue.

It has been nearly two years since the wing player has stepped on the floor in an NCAA Tournament game.

After winning two national championships at Connecticut and having to sit out all of last season with ASU due to NCAA transfer rules, Ekmark, now a redshirt junior, once again will have the opportunity to play in the big dance starting this Saturday when the Sun Devils take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first round of the tournament.

“I am definitely pumped for the tournament, especially after missing it last year and having to sit out,” Ekmark said. “March is the best time of the year. It’s going to be so much fun and I am just looking forward to getting ready and getting prepared.”

In Ekmark’s first postseason action this season in the Pac-12 Tournament, she had an 18-point outburst to help ASU upset No. 13 Oregon State in the second round of the tournament while playing a steady brand of basketball.

“It’s been a long time coming for Courtney with the redshirt year and sitting out,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “I think for Courtney in the Pac-12 Tournament, she was fantastic. She was bouncing off of the walls and excited, and now I think she has that under her belt so that she can kind of go into the NCAA Tournament just locked and loaded.”

Last year, ASU was knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to the eventual national champion South Carolina Gamecocks.

The Sun Devils were just moments away from an upset win to advance to the Sweet 16, and despite the loss, the team now has a returning sophomore class who has been battle-tested in hostile environments.

With the addition of Ekmark, that team toughness will only be magnified as the Sun Devils enter the tournament, and Ekmark will look to provide even more experience as a player who has reached the pinnacle of college basketball with UConn.

In her first year in the Pac-12, the Arcadia native has averaged exactly 10 points a game while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range, and her play has been nothing but consistent on a team that has been plagued with depth issues at times.

Ekmark is averaging nearly 30 minutes a game, and the former Phoenix St. Mary’s High School star has played a variety of roles, rotating from guard to forward at a variety of times.

“She’s a great shooter and a great teammate, and a great leader,” ASU sophomore guard Robbi Ryan said of Ekmark. “We don’t really have that many bodies anyways, so having any bodies added to our team is a great thing.”

Ekmark has relished the opportunity to play in front of her family.

When Ekmark played at St Mary’s, she led the Knights to three consecutive state titles, and her record over that span was 87-3. She also was named Gatorade Player of the Year.

“It’s definitely been special having my family at all of the games, and them having the opportunity to watch me play,” Ekmark said. “That’s been really neat.”

As for her former school, ASU is on the other side of the bracket than UConn, and the only way the two teams could meet would be in the National Championship Game.

Ekmark noted that she would be willing to play anyone at anytime in the tournament, and making a possible run to the national title game will be the only thing on her mind Saturday afternoon.

Whether it has been UConn, ASU or in high school, there is one thing that Ekmark has proven time and time again: she wins, tallying a combined record of 184-16 between St. Mary’s, ASU and UConn.

Come this Saturday, Ekmark will look to keep that trend going as she aims to help ASU make history in her first season with the program.

“I love it here, and I love playing with my teammates. They are awesome,” Ekmark said. “It’s just been a blast and we aren’t done, so that’s the exciting part.”

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