The alarm bells from yesterday’s wake-up call will likely still be ringing in the ears of Arizona State women’s basketball players on March 14 when the NCAA Tournament brackets are announced.
Their chance to clinch a top seed was dashed by the California Golden Bears, who stunned the No. 10 Sun Devils yesterday in a quarter-final upset during the Pac-12 Tournament. The Devils finished the regular season as the conference co-champions and had a good chance to win the tourney before falling under Cal’s spell.
They were caught up in what Cal fans are calling “March Magic.” The 10th-seeded Bears, who aren’t even a .500 team (15-16), pulled off a huge upset in their first-round game, handing No. 7 Utah a 66-63 loss in overtime. And then they upped the level of amazement by posting a double-digit win over ASU, 75-64, to become the lowest seed to defeat a No. 2 in the 14-year history of the tournament.
It was just the first time all season that the Sun Devils had lost two in a row. UCLA beat them in the final game of the regular season – which should have been a wake-up call in itself. But the Bruins are ranked No. 12 in the country and tied for third in the conference. So the loss didn’t have the same shock value.
However, the over-achieving bunch of bears from Berkeley are another story. They had lost seven of their last nine games before popping up and shocking Utah. They’ve won just four conference games, sitting in 10th place in the Pac-12…and they have just seven healthy players.
But it didn’t look like the same Cal team yesterday. The Bears weren’t rattled by their 26 turnovers, but instead put up a defensive effort of their own that held the Devils to 36 percent shooting from the field and 10 percent from behind the arc (2-for-20). On the other end, they set a new Pac-12 Tournament record with 69 percent shooting.
And ASU had already beaten them twice in the regular season – the last time by 15 points.
This is an ASU team that won its first regular-season conference title in 15 years, despite the fact that two other teams during that time frame made it to the Elite Eight during March Madness. This team tied the school record for consecutive wins (15), set a new school record for road wins (11), reached No. 8 in the national polls to tie another program record, and had the best conference start (9-0) ever.
The Sun Devils led or shared the top spot in the Pac-12 every week throughout the season and, along the way, knocked off six Top-25 teams.
But they stumbled across the finish line. And maybe that will turn out to be a good thing. No Pac-12 Tournament title this year, but perhaps a sharper focus going into the Big Dance, where past records and accomplishments mean nothing.
It’s one and done at the Dance.
It should be noted that the Bears rubbed a little salt in the wound in the last game, using an Arizona recruit to inflict most of the scoring damage. Kristine Anigwe, a 6’4″ freshman forward from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, scored a game-high 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting, and added 11 rebounds.
ASU had three players in double figures, led by Sophie Brunner and Kianna Ibis with 14 points apiece.
While this wasn’t the way she wanted to end the regular season, it does give ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne, who was just named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, some time to prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m so proud of this team,” she said after the Cal game. “They’ve achieved so much.
“I’m glad we’re going to get a two-week break, just to re-group.”
(Photo: Cal Athletics)