Arizona State women send message after upsetting Ionescu-led No. 2 Oregon

Arizona State guard Reili Richardson, a key figure during the Sun Devils’ NCAA Tournament run last season, hit two 3-pointers during a 14-0 stretch that helped ASU upset No. 2 Oregon. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TEMPE – As Friday night approached, Arizona State women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne told media that this version of the Oregon Ducks is the best team that she has scouted to play against as a coach.

“I mean, there is nothing that they don’t have,” Turner Thorne said before the game. “… They are the real deal.”

Oregon has a Big 3 that includes senior guard Sabrina Ionescu – the projected first overall selection in the 2020 WNBA Draft – senior forward Ruthy Hebard and junior forward Satou Sabally.

Against all odds, though, ASU (12-4 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) completed a 72-66 upset and comeback win on Friday night against No. 2 Oregon (12-2, 2-1) at Desert Financial Arena, which resulted in a court storm.

ASU had not won against a team ranked as high as No. 2 since a 70-63 win against Stanford to win the first Pac-10 Tournament championship game on March 4, 2002.

“I told our team at halftime, ‘When you win, celebrate like you just won the national championship because it means that you are good enough to,’” Turner Thorne said. “I am very proud of our team. I am very proud of their toughness. I mean, man, we couldn’t throw a pea into the ocean in the first half, but we stayed with it and we played great defense, and we hung around.”

Despite only shooting 25 percent from the field while Oregon shot 58 percent as the game headed into the fourth quarter, ASU kept it close.

When Sabally made a layup with 7:58 left in the game to give Oregon a 12-point lead, though, the Sun Devils’ chances looked bleak. Turner Thorne immediately called a timeout.

After that, ASU felt rejuvenated and took a 58-56 lead with 3:57 left thanks to a 14-0 run, which included two 3-pointers from Reili Richardson and two 3-pointers from senior guard Robbi Ryan.

Ionescu, then, tried to take over the game.

Although the Ducks standout finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, Turner Thorne was pleased with how ASU defended the All-American guard.

“I thought we played (Ionescu) really well, then we knew she was going to take over at the end of the game,” Turner Thorne said. “We talked about it at shootaround, we talked about it pregame and we talked about it at halftime, and I mean it is hard to take away that 9-foot runner falling away. She is just really good.

“… You don’t ever completely shut her down, but I think because she didn’t really get going until then and it took everything for her to try to take out was to our credit.”

ASU senior forward Jamie Ruden weathered the Ionescu storm as she scored seven straight points for the Sun Devils and gave ASU a 65-62 lead with 34 seconds left. After that, Richardson, Ryan and senior forward Ja’Tavia Tapley all made clutch free throws to seal the win.

Other than Ionescu, the Ducks only had Hebard with 13 points and Sabally with 10 points score in double figures while ASU had four players do so with Ryan (17), Tapley (16), Richardson (12) and Ruden (12). ASU also finished the game 19 for 22 from the free-throw line while Oregon shot only 7 for 14.

“(This win) feels great,” Ryan said. “I just feel really proud of our whole team and everybody stepped up, and it was a big team win. … Just having that toughness, that connective-ness and staying together, that is what made the difference.”

As the final buzzer sounded, ASU celebrated as Turner Throne wanted, as if it just won the national championship.

ASU players – and eventually students – rushed the court to celebrate, and Ryan and Richardson jumped on the scorer’s table to hype up the crowd. After that, the celebration continued into the locker room as Turner Thorne was drenched with water.

“They had Powerade bottles all aimed at me,” Turner Thorne said “They are so awesome that they asked. Initially I said ‘no,’ then I said, ‘Oh, what the heck.’”

After the last-second loss against still undefeated and then-No. 10 UCLA last weekend in Los Angeles, ASU became increasingly motivated as the Sun Devils felt that game was there for them to win.

With that and the performance on Friday night, Tapley realizes what ASU can do.

“We showed tonight that we are tough, we can play anybody and can beat them,” Tapley said.

ASU won’t have time to rest as the Sun Devils host No. 3 Oregon State (15-0, 3-0) on Sunday afternoon at Desert Financial Arena.

Throughout recent history – Turner Thorne said – ASU and Oregon State have built an unspoken rivalry. Turner Thorne also said she expects that there is a “good chance” that starting guard Kiara Russell, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, will be back and ready to play.

“All coaches are going to say, ‘Don’t let up. We just had this huge win, don’t let up,’” Turner Thorne said. “But it is hard to let up against the No. 3 team in the nation. … This is draining emotionally, though. We will really have to hit the reset button.”

Turner Thorne finished by saying it was easily the best performance by ASU this season, and she hopes her team brings that same energy and toughness, especially from the fourth quarter, to every game.

“I think for this young team, I don’t even know the words to describe (what this win means),” Turner Thorne said. “This was up there on my list for just fun games and fun wins. … This early in Pac-12 play, I think this really shows this team what they are capable of, and it shows the country what (ASU) is capable of doing.”

Nathan Hiatt

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

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