ASU women out of NCAA tourney, UA men reach Sweet 16

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                </div>  And then there was one. If you’re a college basketball fan in Arizona, your options for continued watching this season have been reduced to one after the Arizona State […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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And then there was one.

If you’re a college basketball fan in Arizona, your options for continued watching this season have been reduced to one after the Arizona State women’s team lost to Notre Dame to start the week, ending their brief journey through the NCAA Tournament after just two games.

Actually, the playoffs haven’t been very good to any of the state’s four-year colleges this year, except for the University of Arizona men’s team down in Tucson.  The top-seeded Wildcats will take on San Diego State tomorrow night in their third Sweet Sixteen appearance in the last four years under Sean Miller.

But the other Arizona teams have either not made it into the post-season, or were unable to hang around very long once they got there.  The college basketball landscape is littered this year with first-round exits from post-season play.

The University of Arizona women (5-24, 1-17), Northern Arizona University women (9-20, 6-14), and NAU men (15-17, 12-8) never got past their conference tournaments, while the Arizona State men managed to get into the NCAA Tournament with a No. 10 seeding, but lost by two points to Texas in the opening game.   That left the teams from Grand Canyon University, which both lost in their first game into a post-season tournament that was their only option for extending the regular season, since the school is transitioning to Division I and will be ineligible for the NCAA tourney during the four-year process.

ASU’s men’s team actually seemed to hold more promise for a longer trip through the NCAA’s Big Dance; the women were considered a bubble team after finishing 22-9 and tied for fourth place in the Pac-12 Conference with 11 wins.  But the women were given a No. 9 seed and a meeting with No. 8 Vanderbilt in the first game in the South Bend Regional – which they parlayed into the program’s first tournament win since 2009, when it reached the Elite Eight.

Things were looking good after the 69-61 win over Vandy.  But it only meant the Sun Devils had earned a match-up with the tournament’s top seed and No. 2 team in the nation, Notre Dame.  The Irish were unbeaten to that point and, despite a great effort by the Devils, remained undefeated as Notre Dame moved on and ASU packed for home.

The final 84-67 score was not indicative of how ASU played, nor what they’ve been able to accomplish this season.  Midway through the first half, the Sun Devils led the Irish by three points and finished out the half just six points behind.  To put that in perspective, the Irish have led by double digits at the half in all but 11 games this season.

It wasn’t until midway through the second half before Notre Dame began to pull away and seal the win, shooting a sizzling 52 percent from the field and capitalizing on 16 ASU fouls in the half.

This has been an over-achieving team all season long, a team picked by the conference coaches in the pre-season to finish 10th in the conference, but started out by winning 11 of their first 12 games and earning a national ranking that they carried throughout the conference season.  It has to be considered one of the better turnaround stories in the game this year after coming off just 13 wins last season and a ninth-place conference finish.

Two of the four seniors on the roster closed out their college careers with big games against one of the nation’s best teams.  Deja Mann, playing her final redshirt season, and Adrianne Thomas combined for 30 points against the Irish, with Mann contributing a team-high 16 points.  Both are part of the recruiting pool that head coach Charli Turner Thorne has cultivated in talent-rich California.

“We needed to play better today,” the 17th-year head coach said after the game, “so we will live with that for a long time.  But I am so proud of our team.”

(Photo: ASU Athletics)