All of a sudden, Arizona State‘s claim to a new women’s basketball school record doesn’t appear to be the slam-dunk that was anticipated several days ago.
Their rival to the south might have something to say later today about whether they stake sole claim to the record for best conference start in program history. A win over University of Arizona on Friday, the first half of a home-and-home series, enabled the Sun Devils to tie the record at 7-0, But they have to beat the Wildcats one more time to step out and claim sole possession of that spot in the record books.
Getting past Arizona tonight would also put ASU one game closer to another school record. The Sun Devils have won 13th straight games and need just two more for that record.
Just judging by Friday’s 61-49 score, the Sun Devils, ranked No. 8 in the country and leading the Pac-12, appeared to have had little trouble with Arizona, which has just two conference wins and sits in 10th place in the standings.
After all, ASU has been beating its conference opponents by an average 16 points a game. Hey, just another day at the office, right?
But, as ESPN football analyst Lee Corso would say… not so fast.
Friday’s game wasn’t finally put away until late in the final quarter. The Cats dogged the Devils all night long, had the game tied up at 26 at the half, and were still within eight points with a little more than six minutes left in the game.
Consider this: Arizona was shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half, while holding ASU to 42 percent. And Arizona held a huge 19-7 rebounding advantage going into intermission.
ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne attributed her team’s first-half struggles to “being a little flat.” She felt they were trying too hard, and needed to relax more.
But the Cats didn’t give them much opportunity to relax in the third quarter. Sophie Brunner buried a jumper to give ASU a two-point lead as the quarter opened, and then the Devils pushed the margin to six points. But Arizona cut the lead back to a single point, 37-36, at the 2:55 mark and hung within a basket or two the rest of the way until a Brunner free throw with two seconds left in the quarter gave the Sun Devils a 47-40 lead going into the fourth.
Brunner finished with 15 points and Elisha Davis had a team-high 16. Arizona was led by Malena Washington, 14 points and seven assists, and Breanna Workman with 13 points and seven rebounds.
In the fourth, ASU stretched the lead to 10 points with 6 1/2 minutes to go and expanded it to 16 points before Arizona cut it back to the final margin of 12 points.
But the Wildcats continued to control the boards in the second half and finished the game with a 35-20 advantage. They also held the hot hand, shooting 50 percent from the field for the game, compared to ASU’s 43 percent.
Those numbers have to be giving Turner Thorne and her staff pause for concern going into tonight’s 5 p.m. re-match.
Add to that one other consideration: the game will be played in Tucson at McKale Center, where Arizona has won eight of its 10 games at home this season.
The Wildcats likely won’t have the kind of turnout that ASU enjoyed at Wells Fargo Arena Friday. The Devils drew 3,455 fans. The Cats pulled in just 967 for their last home game, against Colorado.
But tonight’s contest isn’t just any ol’ game. This one involves a bitter rivalry – and a chance to knock off a top-10 team. There could be a sea of red in the stands tonight awaiting the Sun Devils.
Anything can happen in these emotion-filled games. And that’s what has Turner Thorne concerned.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)