ASU women use defense to break Stanford hoops jinx


If defense was the determining factor in the polls, the Arizona State women’s basketball team might have finally climbed into the top 10.

After beating two top-10 teams in the last four games, the Sun Devils worked their way up to No. 14 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls.  And they beat each of those teams by double digits, taking down then-No.10 Florida on Dec. 21, 68-56, and No. 9 Stanford on Monday, 49-31.

The manner in which they beat the Cardinal should have been worth a little extra consideration.

Stanford’s 31 total points set a new school mark for fewest scored in any game in program history as the Sun Devils put the lid on all of the Cardinal scorers, allowing no more than seven points from any one player.

ASU held the Stanford offense to just 25.6 percent shooting and led by as many as 20 points at one time in the first half before taking a 26-13 lead into intermission.

That’s not a typo.  Thirteen points.

No one would have believed that Stanford, a top-10 team that came into the game with an 11-2 record, could be held to just 13 points in a half.   The Sun Devils’ aggressive defense has held teams to 14 or fewer points in a quarter 30 times this season…but that’s a far cry from 13 in a half.

Once before, the Pac-12 power was held to 32 points.  But that was 32 years ago – almost to the day – when Missouri beat Stanford, 72-32, on Jan. 2 of 1984.

Entering Monday’s game, the Cardinal were coming off a 25-point win in their Pac-12 opener, beating University of Arizona, 59-34, just two days earlier in Tucson.

“I couldn’t believe the halftime score,” said Charli Turner Thorne in addressing the media after the game.  The ASU head coach, the school’s all-time winningest coach in her 19th season directing the program, has now beaten Stanford in two straight meetings, the other in January of last year.

That’s a bigger deal than it sounds.  It’s more like a milestone for the program during the Turner Thorne era as Stanford has become its biggest nemesis.  That three-point win last season was the first time in nearly a decade that ASU was able to beat Stanford, going back to February of 2006. And that game was at Stanford, marking the first road win against the Cardinal since 1984.

When that history is factored in, Monday’s dominating victory takes on even greater significance.

Once the Devils got a significant lead, they held on to it like a bull dog with a bone.  Junior forward Sophie Brunner made a couple of free throws with 8:30 left to go in the first half; the first one through the net gave the Devils a 17-7 lead and they maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

Brunner notched her 11th career double-double, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds to lead the offensive attack.  Arnecia Hawkins, the senior guard from Mountain View High School in Mesa, also chipped in 12 points, and her back-court partner, senior point guard Elisha Davis, added nine points, six rebounds, and three assists.

The Sun Devils got off to a less-than-spectacular 3-2 start to the season, but quickly settled in and have now won eight straight.  A 57-49 win over No. 19 California in the conference opener has them off to a 2-0 start to Pac-12 play.

They started out the season with a No. 15 national ranking and have bounced around the polls for the first six weeks, starting out with a heart-breaking loss in overtime to Kentucky that dropped them to No. 18 and then hitting bottom at No. 24 at the close of the first week in December.

But they’re moving on up again, getting ready for a swing through the state of Washington, taking on the Huskies (11-3, 2-1) Friday and the Cougars (10-4, 1-2) on Sunday.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)