ASU women bring down the curtain on basketball – mercifully

The basketball season in Arizona is officially over.  And perhaps that’s not all bad, considering how the year finished.

The Arizona State women were the last team in Arizona standing and they got bumped from the WNIT tournament in the second round last night, falling to BYU, 61-53, on their home floor at Wells Fargo Arena.  The Devils were a No. 1 seed.

The Sun Devil women finished 18-14 and, although not the best record, got farther than any of the six major college teams in the state.  The ASU men’s team went 22-11 on the year, finished second in the Pac-10, and had a No. 1 seed in the NIT.  But they lost in the first round.

Arizona’s men’s team finished with an anemic 16-15 mark, got beat in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, and weren’t even offered a berth in the NIT.  The Wildcat women, 14-17, were trounced 72-52 by Stanford in the opening  game of the Pac-10 tourney and, like their men’s team, sat around the TV for March Madness, instead of around the court.

Northern Arizona, which plays in the Big Sky Conference, fared no better.  Its men’s team just made the .500 mark with a 14-14 record and the women’s team struggled to a 5-23 finish.

Both wrapped up their season on March 6 when the men lost in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament, dropping an 81-60 decision to Montana.  The women didn’t even make it to the tournament, the first time they failed to make the field since 1994-95.

Last night’s loss by the ASU women marked the fourth time it has played in the WNIT under Coach Charli Turner Thorne, but it has never made it past the second round.  This year was no exception.

But this is a team that has also been very successful in the Big Dance, going as far as the Elite Eight twice in the NCAA Tournament, as recently as last year.  But it was a lack of consistency and, according to Thorne, decision-making.

Turnovers have been troublesome this year, too.  But they are capable of controlling that part of their game.  When they beat Arizona in the rivalry game in late February, they committed a season-low eight turnovers.

That inconsistency, poor decision-making, and giving up the ball comes with a young team.  They actually used an all-freshman starting line-up against BYU.

That offers promises of better things to come next year.

Junior point guard Tenaya Watson returns, as does junior forward Becca Tobin, who earned All-Pac 10 honorable mention this season.  And they add at least one more guard, Adrianne Thomas from California, who arrives in the fall after averaging 18 points for her high school team.  Then figure in Markisha Patterson, a junior college guard who redshirted this season, and the return of guard Dymond Simon (14 pts ppg) from knee surgery.

Thorne will also have good height to draw from next year.  Freshman posts, Janae Fulcher and Joy Burke, run 6’3″ and 6’5″ respectively.  Add to that Kali Bennett, a 6’5″ sophomore, and the 6’5″ Tobin.

On the minus side, they lose leading scorer, Danielle Orsillo, an All-Pac 10 selection at guard, and forward Kayli Murphy, second-leading rebounder and an honorable mention on the Pac-10 All-Defensive Team.

But down in Tucson, second-year coach Niya Butts also has to be optimistic about the Cats’ prospects next year and will likely be ready for a rivalry re-match.

While the Cats’ 14-17 record doesn’t seem like much, it is showing improvement in the program.  It’s a two-win improvement over last year and 14 wins is the most since 2004-05.

Butts is expecting big things next year from a maturing backcourt that includes sophomore guard Brooke Jackson and freshman guard Davellyn Whyte.  White set a single-game record this year of 39 points and she was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.  Add to that junior Ify Ibekwe, who also set a single-game mark – for rebounding.  And next year she should break the career mark since she just needs 41 boards to reach the career record of 921.

The ASU women brought the curtain down on the 2009-10 season last night.  But if you peek under the curtain to see what’s coming next year, it should erase the memory of this season’s unhappy endings.

There are some great rivalry games ahead in 2011.

(Photo credit: ASU Athletics/Jason Wise)