‘It’s 0-0’: ASU women’s basketball hopes to disrupt Pac-12 tournament despite 11th seed

ASU guard Trayanna Crisp, center, defends USC’s JuJu Watkins, left, and Kaitlyn Davis in the Sun Devils’ last regular season game before heading off to compete in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Emma Jeanson/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – Just as one season ended for the Arizona State women’s basketball team, a new one is about to begin.

ASU coach Natasha Adair calls it the “third season,” but it’s widely known as the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament. The Sun Devils tip-off against the Utah Utes in a first round, win-or-go-home matchup Wednesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. ASU heads into the tournament as the No. 11 seed following a season where the team went 11-19 overall and 3-15 in the conference, while the Utes (21-9, 11-7) are seeded sixth.

No. 7 Arizona takes on No. 10 Washington in an earlier game.

The Sun Devils and Utes met in Tempe in early January, with Utah taking the 58-41 victory.

“We’ve seen every team, we’ve been in pretty much every game and so now to go and let the madness begin, you got to put it all together,” Adair said.

Adair enters the tournament in her second season at the Sun Devils’ helm, following five seasons as the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens coach. In her final season at Delaware, Adair led the Blue Hens to their third Colonial Athletic Association championship and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013.

“I know what it’s like to win a conference championship, what it’s like to walk up that ladder and cut down the nets, but to do it, your margin for error is zero,” Adair said. “No one has leverage going into conference tournaments. It’s 0-0.”

To be that team that can call itself conference champions and shred the nets, the ASU coach said her players must learn from the regular season and improve where they have struggled. Adair noted the specific growth that needs to be made in rebounding, field goal percentage and shot selection. ASU ranks second to last in the conference in rebounds per game (33.9) and last in field goal percentage (37.7%). On defense, the Sun Devils have looked promising with their first shot defense, but opponents have feasted on second and third chance opportunities this season, Adair said.

Despite statistical lows, the team saw slight improvement over last season in the most important statistics: wins and losses. ASU added three more wins to its overall record from last season and two more victories to its conference record. The minimal growth came in a season where the team battled injuries from the start. Before the first game, the Sun Devils lost last season’s leading scorer, Tyi Skinner, for the entirety of the season to a knee injury.

ASU coach Natasha Adair said she knows what it’s like to win a conference championship, “but to do it, your margin for error is zero.” (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

ASU coach Natasha Adair said she knows what it’s like to win a conference championship, “but to do it, your margin for error is zero.” (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

With just one returning senior playing the full season, a lot of the trust went to the freshmen, sophomores and juniors. The challenges the Sun Devils faced this season have given Adair an opportunity to teach her players about the obstacles in life and how to use them to flourish.

“So adversity is a part of life, you will never escape adversity. But it’s how you learn from it, how you grow from it, and that actually brings people closer together,” Adair said. “This is a group that will continue to have a chip on their shoulder because they know what’s inside of them and as we continue to grow and continue to build this core group, it’s gonna be exciting to watch.”

One of the players leading the way for the Sun Devils this season is sophomore guard Trayanna Crisp, who is second on the team in points scored (355, behind Jalyn Brown’s 486) and leads the team in 3-pointers with 41. For Crisp, she has leaned on the seniors to mentor her throughout the season. Crisp points to teammate Isadora Sousa, who has helped Crisp with her on-and-off-the-court IQ along with behind-the-back passes. Senior guard Jaddan Simmons is another mentor for Crisp, who wants to learn how to be balanced emotionally like Simmons is on the court.

“I just want to learn from my seniors. They’re just great role models for me,” Crisp said.

Season lingering obstacles aren’t new for Adair and her Sun Devils. Last season, the team dealt with substantial injuries as it entered the Pac-12 tournament as the 12th seed. Though ASU lost in the first round to UCLA, the Sun Devils nearly became the third 12th seed to defeat the fifth seed when they came back from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter to send the game into overtime. The Bruins eventually came out on top 81-70, but ASU showed a never-give-up attitude that has persisted into this season.

Adair admitted that last season was a bit of a blur due to adapting to the challenges of coaching a new team and handling injuries. This season there is a different aura as Adair feels her style of play is beginning to attach itself to the team.

“I think this year, you can see ‘Coach-A’ style of basketball more,” Adair said. “I think you can see the competitiveness more, I think you can see the vision of what I want for our team and where we want to go.”

Aaron Decker(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Aaron Decker expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a certificate in sports, cultures and ethics. Decker has worked with Sports Illustrated Fan Nation as a reporter and works for KDUS AM 1060 as a board operator.

Emma Jeanson(she/her)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Emma Jeanson expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. She has covered various sports around Arizona and has worked with AIA and AZPreps365.

Joe Eigo joe EYE-go (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Joe Eigo expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Eigo is in his third semester at Cronkite News. He has previously worked with Inferno Intel, WCSN, The State Press and The Racing Experts.