ASU women’s basketball builds confidence after historic weekend
TEMPE – A unique opportunity inside Desert Financial Arena presented itself recently, and the Arizona State women’s basketball team took advantage.
ASU (13-4 overall, 3-2 Pac-12 play) made history in Tempe as it beat then-No. 2 Oregon on Friday night and topped then-No. 3 and undefeated Oregon State on Sunday afternoon.
Simply, it beat two of the top teams in the country.
“We knew we were going to win,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said jokingly. “… I just prepare, and I think about what our team needs. Did I believe that we could win both? Yes.”
The Sun Devils play Friday at Washington.
ASU jumped from unranked to No. 18 in the latest Associated Press poll, and Turner Thorne knows that will continue to give the Sun Devils confidence.
“I told them nobody had done it before, I didn’t look it up … but I am pretty darn sure that an unranked team has not beat the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country within 48 hours ever, at least in the regular season,” she said. “It was fun.”
Turner Thorne was right as no unranked team previously had won against back-to-back AP Top 5 opponents in the same week in the last 20 seasons, per ESPN Stats and Info. And no research available showed evidence that this achievement had been accomplished in history.
After each win, ASU players celebrated as Sun Devil fans stormed the court.
Then, those celebrations continued into the locker room as ASU players drenched Turner Thorne in water showers. Throughout the weekend and afterward, Turner Thorne expressed just how pleased she has been with her team.
“That is usually a March moment,” Turner Thorne said. “That is not usually a January moment. It feels kind of surreal.”
ASU had some hiccups in its non-conference slate at Minnesota and against Purdue. Then, the Sun Devils started Pac-12 play slow. ASU lost to then-No. 18 Arizona in Tempe for the first time since 2000 and had a last-second loss at UCLA, which is the last unbeaten team in women’s basketball.
ASU senior guard Robbi Ryan said she believes that the upset wins opened the younger players’ eyes to what is important.
“The little things matter so much,” Ryan said. “Everyone is athletic. Everyone is talented and good at this level. It is just those extra things that make the difference.”
Turner Thorne said that she thinks ASU grew its “toughness muscle” last weekend.
She added that the team showed its inexperience and has faced injuries early in the season, which she believes has changed and that ASU has continued to improve.
“Big picture, I am just going to say how amazing the Pac-12 is,” Turner Thorne said. “I hope that the whole country looks at these games this weekend. Not that Oregon isn’t a great team and Oregon State isn’t a great team, but that we have a lot of great teams, including us in our conference.
“… It has been such a privilege and so fun to watch this team grow and develop and make history.”
Last season, ASU finished 22-11 and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before it lost to top-seeded Mississippi State. Turner Thorne said she thinks this team could exceed that result, and that they players have started to learn the mindset that it takes to be great.
ASU has a history of success, which stems from defensive effort and intensity. It is no different this season as ASU has struggled offensively at times.
“All the best teams in basketball, men’s side or women’s side – I don’t care, we may play different styles, but there is not a great team that is not a great defensive team,” Turner Thorne said. “It doesn’t exist. People always think we love defense.
“No, we love to win. Our team knows if they work really hard on defense that they have a chance to win every game that they are in.”
Turner Thorne added that her team has definitely bought into that, and ASU displayed that as it held Oregon – which averages 86.5 points per game – to 66 points on Friday night and Oregon State – which averages 74.6 points per game – to 47 points on Sunday afternoon.
ASU also has a balanced offense with 10 players that play significant minutes and average at least 4.5 points per game, including senior forward Ja’Tavia Tapley with a team-high 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
ASU players acknowledged it wasn’t upset being ranked just No. 18, and that rankings don’t really matter as the Sun Devils won against Oregon and Oregon State before it was in the AP poll.
“We just know that if we play as hard as we can, we can do anything (and beat anyone),” Tapley said.
As the season moves forward, ASU will receive more attention and have higher expectations throughout the nation.
Turner Thorne said that she is pleased with where the team is. She understands that Pac-12 play gives ASU more and more opportunities to show what it can do and improve.
“For me, with this team, I think we have really great potential, so I don’t even think about limits,” senior forward Jamie Ruden said. “I don’t even think about what we can’t do. I think are doing a good job at just showing up and focusing on what we can control, which is just how hard we work and our positive energy.
“With that, anyone can win on any night.”