ASU women’s basketball clashes with Texas with Sweet 16 on the line
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Arizona State has been in this position before: playing on a higher-seed’s home court with a chance for an upset to earn a trip the Sweet 16.
A missed box out on a rebound and a turnover in the final minute let eventual national champion South Carolina off the hook and sent the Sun Devils home with a 71-68 loss, a defeat that has stuck with them for a year. They’ll get a chance for redemption Monday night when they face No. 2-seed Texas on the Longhorns’ home court in the second round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
“It was an amazing feeling, that we just emptied out and played with each other,” ASU guard Kiara Russell said. “We came back and regrouped and we’re here again.”
The crushing loss was also a lesson in the details that came make or break a run to the national championship. A defensive rebound could have denied a game-winning tip-in. A better handle on the ball could have set up the Sun Devils for a winning shot.
“The little things are important and we’re here again with another chance,” said Arizona State guard guard Reili Richardson, who scored 16 points in the loss but had the critical turnover with 18 seconds, one of her six in the game.
Arizona State graduated three seniors from last season’s squad but came back to the tournament as the No. 7 seed in the Kansas City Region.
“I think it makes us even hungrier this year,” Sun Devils guard Robbi Ryan said.
Still, it will be a tall order to beat the Longhorns (27-6) on their home court.
Texas is 47-6 at the Frank Erwin Center the last three seasons, which includes five NCAA Tournament wins as Texas has hosted the first two rounds each of the last three years. But the Longhorns also know to expect a dogfight if they want to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year. Texas was pushed to the brink by North Carolina State in the second round last year before escaping with an 84-80 victory.
Texas’ only two losses in Austin this season were to Baylor and UConn.
“It’s survive and advance,” Texas forward Jatarie White said. “We have to come out our hardest and our strongest every day.”
Texas will face a much more physical matchup than it did against Maine in the first round when the Longhorns had more size and speed at every position. The Sun Devils (22-12) handled punished Nebraska with dominant rebounding in a first-round victory and the top defensive team in the Pac 12 will look to slow down Texas in transition.
Just like playing in the Big 12, Texas coach Karen Aston said.
“We’re similar teams. We have bigs who can score, guards that can shoot … I would expect this will be a game that the 50-50 stuff comes into play,” Aston said. “It’s rugged, a little big ugly, but you’re going to see some kids flying around.”
Arizona State has held opponents to 12 points or less in a quarter 51 times. In the first round matchup against Nebraska, the Sun Devils held the Cornhuskers under 15 points in each of the first three quarters and held them scoreless for five minutes in the third.
But few teams can match the speed and shiftiness of Texas guards Brooke McCarty and Lashann Higgs in transition. The Sun Devils were 4 of 19 shooting on 3-pointers in the first round, and another effort like that could give the Texas duo plenty of chances for long rebounds to start the fast break. McCarty is just 5-4, but her seven rebounds against Maine on Saturday were her third-highest total of the season.
“We’re athletic. We can get back with them,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “I think we’re plenty fast enough. We just have to get a jump … We had too many soft possessions in transition (against Nebraska) and we have to clean that up.”