Should the ASU women’s basketball team struggle in its WNIT opener tomorrow night, the ladies won’t be able to blame it on being out of their comfort zone.
The Sun Devils will be playing on their home court at Wells Fargo Arena.
They will be making their 11th consecutive post-season appearance, the fourth time in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament under Coach Charli Turner Thorne.
And they will be playing New Mexico State, a program they have encountered 12 times already (and beat seven times).
Of course, they would rather be playing in the NCAA Tournament, but a 17-13 record that includes the fewest wins of any season in the past six years and a loss in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament didn’t leave them much choice. It’s their first miss in six years.
On the plus side, they do have a No. 1 seed in the second-best tournament and open with a team that is still trying to build a program and may not be ready quite yet to take on a challenge like ASU, which made it to the Elite Eight in the Big Dance in 2007 and 2009. The Aggies will be making just their fourth post-season appearance in the program’s 36 years.
But they returned four of their five starters from last season and have good size in the paint, which can be a problem for ASU if their perimeter scoring isn’t on track. The Devils will also need to cut down on turnovers and play a consistent defense that doesn’t let up as the game winds down.
NM State (18-13) finished the regular season in fifth place in the Western Athletic Conference, the conference from which ASU evolved many moons ago. They were also bumped from their conference tournament in the quarterfinals, losing to fourth-seeded Idaho, 75-63.
The Aggies’ best years were in the mid-80’s when they made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. They made their debut in the WNIT after the 1993-94 season, but lost to Oklahoma in the first round.
But the Aggies are happy to get a tournament game at ASU, where they can showcase their program to the Phoenix area because that is one of their prime recruiting grounds.
Just last year, the Aggies snagged Malia Mazazzeni out of Highland HS. The 6’2″ freshman forward was part of two 5A state championship teams at Highland and the leading rebounder her senior year. She is just one of several 6-foot-plus newcomers for the Aggies this year.
And a few years back, the Aggies picked up a real gem from the Arizona market when they recruited Monique Bribiescas, a 5’6″ bundle of explosive energy that led Desert Vista HS into the 2002 and 2004 state championship games. Bribiescas was listed as one of the top 30 point guards in the nation her senior year.
The Sun Devils’ job tomorrow night is to make sure that local basketball talent is the only thing the Aggies take with them back to Las Cruces.
The win needs to stay here.