LAS VEGAS – In a city filled with big names and celebrities on a nightly basis, it was the star of the Arizona State women’s basketball team who couldn’t deliver. And just like that, the Sun Devils’ dream of a potential run at the Pac-12 championship died.
“It happens. There are nights where the shot just doesn’t fall,” guard Jade Loville said after ASU lost to Oregon State 59-54 in the opening round of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The senior averaged nearly 17 points this season and developed into the Sun Devils’ go-to scorer all year.
In a game ASU needed its star to shine, Loville’s season ended on a whimper. She started 0 for 14 from the field until making her first bucket in the third quarter. She finished with just nine points (after scoring 33 in their first meeting with Oregon State on February 4).
“I just wish I could’ve made some more shots for my team, especially in the first half,” Loville said.
An uncharacteristic ending to an uncharacteristic year for the Sun Devils.
March is the holiday season of college basketball. You feel it in the air as the temperature rises, and as the competition heats up at the end of the year.
All season long, teams train and compete against the best of the best in order to build chemistry, confidence and trust needed for when the time comes to pack bags and head for the conference tournament.
“I’ll ride with this team forever long,” guard Taya Hanson said.
But when you live in a time when COVID-19 is still impacting people around the world, nothing is given or guaranteed.
“It’s been a hard year with a lot of adversity and setbacks. I’m proud of this team for staying with things and learning,” ASU coach Charlie Turner Thorne said.
In the case of Turner Thorne’s squad, it just never seemed to develop down the stretch going into March. The Sun Devils had lost their final six games after an epic victory over the rival Arizona Wildcats.
“That’s just how we finished out the season,” Turner Thorne said.
“We force things. … We have very good, talented players. We’re very impatient at times,” she added.
ASU shot a combined 5 for 34 from the field in the first half. In any month, that’s not going to cut it.
Even though the Beavers had lost their last two games by 12 and 15 points, the “third time’s a charm” saying held true.
“Just didn’t make shots, and you have to make shots. Especially in March,” Turner Thorne said.
“We knew what it was going to take,” Hanson said. “It was going to take our defense being aggressive on the ball and like coach said, hitting shots.”
From the get-go, the fire power from the field lied with Oregon State. After a layup responding to ASU’s first bucket of the game, the Beavers rattled off back-to-back-to-back long range 3-point shots to set the tone the rest of the way.
Even without the support of Loville’s reliable jump shot and missed opportunities, somehow the deficit was just eight points going into the locker room at the half.
When the second half got going, the game started to get away from ASU. Oregon State forward Ellie Mack had a huge third quarter, going 4 of 5 from the field with 11 points that gave OSU that big lead.
At that point, down 18 and about to head into the fourth quarter of possibly the final game of the season, Arizona State had a decision to make.
“It was either fight to the best of our ability, or roll over and we definitely didn’t roll over,” Loville said.
Roll over, they did not. ASU slowly crept its way back into the game through some key shot-making and an extra gear of defense.
“We didn’t have the energy to press all game, but we pressed the fourth quarter,” Turner Thorne said.
The Sun Devils almost had a comeback for the ages. They cut that 18-point deficit down to just two in the final minutes of the game. Hanson was leading the charge back with four 3-pointers in the second half (three of them in the fourth quarter).
The momentum had shifted. The Oregon State fan-filled crowd was in a cold sweat. It was right there for the taking.
Alas, the comeback fell short.
After grinding out a 12-14 record, in a season that saw cancellations all over due to COVID-19, tough injuries and many memorable moments, it’s history now.
“That was the story of our year, you know?,” Turner Thorne said.