CORAL GABLES, Fla. – In today’s basketball, the game is defined by flashy offenses.
On Friday, however, Arizona State and Central Florida played a throwback, rough-and-tumble game with the players, and even Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne, taking some battle wounds.
“They were talking about, ‘I got hit here, I got hit here,’ ” Turner Thorne said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I lost two nails.’ ”
The Sun Devils defeated the Knights in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament 60-45 in a battle of two stingy defenses.
Both teams entered the game allowing less than 60 points per game this season, but the Sun Devils’ balanced scoring effort was too much for UCF.
Senior forward Courtney Ekmark had one of the best games in her career with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Her fellow senior, Kianna Ibis, picked up her third double-double of the season tallying 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“Obviously, excited to keep playing and you know usually the way this goes,” Turner Thorne said. “Teams that have deep runs, just keep playing better, keep playing better and that’s our plan.”
Arizona State played stout defense all night, limiting the Knights to 32 percent shooting from the field, breaking a school record for fewest points allowed in an NCAA Tournament game.
Ibis and the other post players took advantage of an undersized Knights team, out-rebounding UCF 42-27 and scoring 14 second-chance points.
“That’s one of our goals for us posts and guards is to keep getting second shots because that’s part of our offense,” Ibis said. “It’s win-or-go-home so I was just trying to lock down and focus on rebounding today and the rest of the tournament.”
UCF played a full-court press and zone defense for the entire game. While the Sun Devils weren’t exactly clean with the ball, turning the ball over 18 times, ASU attacked the Knights’ zone defense thanks to the play of guard Reili Richardson.
“We struggled at times,” Richardson said. “I think we didn’t ball fake enough and we just dribbled into their trapping zones so we adjusted and got better.”
Richardson has been a calming presence for the Sun Devils as the floor general. Against a press team like the Knights, Richardson finished with five assists to just one turnover.
Entering the tournament, the junior ranked fifth in the country with a 3.60 assist-turnover ratio. Playing in her third postseason, as the stage gets bigger, she’s stayed even-keeled.
“I think just more experience and I know what it’s like for the seniors to go out,” Richardson said. “I think just playing hard and giving it all we have.”
Next up for the Sun Devils is the fourth-seeded and host school Miami on Sunday. The Hurricanes defeated Florida Gulf Coast 69-62 in a down-to-the-wire game.
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