Sadly for Arizona college sports fans, the unfulfilled expectations of the 2015 football season have now spilled over to taint the much-hyped basketball promise of 2016.
March Madness has turned into March Mourning. Those tickets to the Big Dance have turned into discarded stubs on the floor as the dance goes on without a single representative from Arizona’s Pac-12 schools.
The University of Arizona men’s team took an unexpected tumble in its opening game, getting shocked by the Shockers of Wichita State in a humbling 65-55 loss. And the only other AZ entrant, the women of Arizona State, lasted just one more game than the Wildcats, getting handed their walking papers in a 75-64 defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Arizona wilted under the defensive pressure of 11th-seeded Wichita State, which had to play into the field by beating Vanderbilt. The Shockers forced 19 turnovers and held the Cats to 41.7 percent shooting from the field. That barrage of turnovers was converted into 22 points by an aggressive Shocker defense.
Arizona’s 55 points were almost 30 under its season average.
This was the first time since Sean Miller took over the program seven years ago that the Wildcats failed to get past the first round. After a 25-8 season and No. 17 national ranking, expectations were high for a deep run through the tourney; the Cats went into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed.
Junior guard Kadeem Allen led the Wildcat scorers with just 11 points. Gabe York, Allonzo Trier, and Ryan Anderson were the team’s top three scorers through the season, averaging a combined 45 points a game, but Wichita State held them to a collective total of 28 points. For York and Anderson, this was their final college game.
The ASU women made it to the second round by beating No. 15 seed New Mexico State by 22 points in the opening game, but then ran into a Tennessee team in the second round that grabbed an early lead and kept the Sun Devils at arm’s length pretty much the rest of the way.
The Vols are 21-13 and seeded seventh…but hey, it is Tennessee, after all.
ASU did manage to tie the game at 33 going into halftime, but every time they closed the gap the Volunteers would pull away.
The Devils struggled with Tennessee’s size that put five starters on the floor all six-foot or above. The Vols’ post players, Nia Moore at 6’3″ and 6’6″ Mercedes Russell, combined for 23 points and led their team to a 36-30 advantage on the boards. But it was the 6’1″ redshirt sophomore, Diamond DeShields, that did major damage with her game-high 24 points from her guard position. Tennessee shot a sizzling 52 percent for the game.
Things looked promising when Russell picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench with 7 1/2 minutes still left in the game. Then Moore collected her fourth 30 seconds later and fouled out with 3:32 still to play.
But ASU, and its 6’4″ center Quinn Dornstauder, couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity and just wasn’t able to close the scoring gap before time ran out. The junior finished with 15 points, one of four ASU players in double figures, including Elisha Davis (18), Arnecia Hawkins (13), and Sophie Brunner (12).
The Sun Devils were hoping to return to the Sweet Sixteen, which is where they ended their journey last year, and there was every indication they could pull it off. They featured an experienced squad that finished the regular season with 25 wins and were ranked No. 9 in the nation.
However, a surprising first-round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament, and now this, was a disappointing end to what was a very promising season.
ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne was just as disappointed, of course, but was quick to remind her fans and the media after yesterday’s game that this was a season of considerable accomplishment.
“I love this team,” said Turner Thorner, who just completed her 19th year at ASU. “They have been a blast to coach, they have been amazing…definitely have not under-achieved.
“They have had an incredible year and have an amazing spirit, and I’ve just been so proud of everything they have accomplished.”
But still, coach, a deep run would have been nice.