Despite early exit, ASU women remain optimistic after Pac-12 tournament loss

It was a disappointing day for Arizona State’s seniors, including Robbi Ryan, as they loss to California in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Nathan Hiatt/Cronkite News)

LAS VEGAS – After the game, Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne immediately thought about 2009. 

On Thursday, No. 24 ASU (20-11) entered the postseason as the No. 5 seed in the conference, but the Sun Devils ultimately fell short 71-67 against No. 12 seed California (12-18) in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. The Sun Devils were without senior and starting point guard Kiara Russell, who suffered a bone bruise and stretched ligaments in her left knee last week against Stanford in Tempe.

“I think the thing that comes to mind, right now, is when we lost the first game in the Pac-12 Tournament (in 2009), we lost our starting point guard (Dymond Simon) the last game of the regular season, as well,” Turner Thorne said. “It is just a tough turnaround to figure things out and to have people step up and take new roles. 

“The great news now this year is that we will get (Russell) back for the NCAA (Tournament).”

ASU went on to advance to the Elite Eight that season in 2009.

California had a defensive spark late in the game, which resulted in a 20-0 run and ultimately helped propel the Golden Bears to the upset win. 

ASU had played relatively well as the Sun Devils had a 46-35 lead with 1:55 left in the third quarter, but then everything quickly changed.

California ramped up the full-court pressure, and the Golden Bears forced turnovers and made a 20-0 run – that stretched from late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter – to give the last-placed Pac-12 team a 55-46 lead against ASU.

“I think there was a time when (Reili Richardson) wasn’t in, and (Wendale Farrow), my assistant, said, ‘Let’s try pressing them,'” California coach Charmin Scott said. “We saw there was a lack of ball handlers from our viewpoint, and then it worked. I think they got a little bit rattled, so we stayed with it, and we stayed with it, no matter who was in the game.”

Although ASU started to make a comeback, the Sun Devils could never retake the lead against California. With the win, the Golden Bears move to the quarterfinals and will play No. 4 seed and No. 13 Arizona, a team California just upset on Sunday in Tucson.

Turner Thorne credited California, but she noted that it is uncharacteristic for her Sun Devils to have so many turnovers (21) and give up so many free throws (30).

“We can’t give teams free throws and win, and we can’t turn the ball over (that much),” Turner Thorne said. “I think not having (Russell) out there, our starting point guard, and having our rotation, hurt us in the press and just taking care of the ball and with execution.
“(Russell) does a lot of things for us.”

California senior forward Jaelyn Brown helped carry the Golden Bears with 22 points and six rebounds. Freshman guard Cailyn Crocker had 20 points and six rebounds and fellow freshman guard Jazlen Green had 14 points. 

ASU had its best production from its seniors, especially Richardson with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists. Ryan had 14 points while Ja’Tavia Tapley added 13 points and six rebounds.

ASU will likely have its NCAA Tournament seed impacted from this loss. ESPN bracketology expert Charlie Creme previously had the Sun Devils slated as a No. 6 seed in the Evanston regional, but ASU could potentially drop to a No. 7, No. 8 or No. 9 seed when the official bracket is released on March 16.

With the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, Turner Thorne said her team won’t struggle in this fashion. Nobody was pleased with the performance against California, and everyone in the postgame media session mentioned the “little things.”

“I am obviously upset about the game,” Ryan said. “Now that it is over … we can’t hang our heads too much about it because we have to look forward and work on the things we need to work on to go into the NCAA Tournament strong and ready.”

Turner Thorne also had a seemingly bittersweet mindset after the loss to the Golden Bears as ASU has an extended window to rest, recover and practice. 
“It is fun to play somebody that is not familiar with you, a new opponent,” Turner Thorne said. “This break is so needed for our team. We are really banged up, (and) really tired. … This will be an incredible break for us just to get refreshed, but we need to work on things.”

Nathan Hiatt

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

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