Everything was good for the Arizona State women’s basketball team. The Sun Devils, who were ranked as high as No. 16 in the preseason polls, were riding a tall horse after beating their first two opponents in the non-conference portion of their schedule, the first win by 36 points against Illinois State and the next by 45 points over San Jose State.
But then they hit the road to take on Marquette. A 12-point loss to the Golden Eagles brought the Devils back down to earth.
Then, still licking their wounds from their first loss, they headed to Las Vegas to play in the South Point Thanksgiving Tournament. Their first game was against No. 6 Maryland, which has since climbed to No. 4 in both major polls.
That turned out to be a reality check. The Terrapins almost doubled ASU’s final score in the 83-42 romp.
The reality set in early. ASU shot an ice-cold 19 percent from the field in the first half and dug a 47-13 hole by halftime. And they contributed to the Maryland effort by turning the ball over 20 times before the game ended.
Things weren’t much better on the defensive side of the ball as Maryland shot 55 percent and had five players score in double figures.
That game turned out to be the turning point, the motivator the Devils needed to regain their mojo.
It’s been 18 days since that November train wreck in Sin City. Four games and four wins later, ASU is now among the nationally-ranked, coming in at No. 23 in this week’s standings by both major polls.
They used a pair of back-to-back upsets over ranked teams to earn their place in the rankings. After that loss to Maryland, the Devils posted double-digit wins in their next two games – and then took their game up another notch to pull off two huge upsets.
The first was a 69-63 home victory over then-No. 19 Florida. ASU used 93 percent shooting in the fourth quarter to overcome a 12-point deficit at the start of the period and outscored the Gators 30-12 over the final 10 minutes to secure the win.
A trio of seniors, all returning starters from last season, led the scoring effort, with Sophie Brunner (14 pts) , Quinn Dornstauder (13), and Kelsey Moos (11) combining for 38 points and 26 rebounds. Sophomore forward Kianna Ibis contributed another 12 points and four rebounds.
Their defense was also up to the task, forcing 25 Florida turnovers that led to 29 points.
A week later, against then-No. 15 Kentucky, Brunner led the way again with 18 points as the Sun Devils pulled out a heart-stopping 73-71 victory in overtime.
Once again, the Devils had to play catch-up most of the way, going into halftime down seven points and beginning the fourth quarter behind by four. But a jumper by sophomore guard Sabrina Haines with less than a minute left would tie the game at 61 and send it into overtime.
Dornstauder got her 15 points, but it was an unexpected source that provided serious help for the offense. Reili Richardson, the 5’11” freshman guard from California, contributed 12 points and six assists in her first college career start.
But the strength of the Devils’ game lately has been its rebounding, particularly on the offensive boards where they have used a 54-20 advantage in second-chance points to help carry them through the four-game win streak.
The Sun Devils are on the road again for a match-up with Middle Tennessee, looking to extend their winning streak to five games. The last time they played Middle Tennessee, during the 2014/15 season, Brunner put up 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to help the Devils to a 81-67 win.
Tonight’s game will make it five out of seven games that have been played away from Wells Fargo Arena. But once they return from Murfreesboro, the rest of the month will be spent at home.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)