Sunday hoops game vs. UA a must-win for ASU women

Tomorrow’s hoops match-up with the University of Arizona carries with it the usual hype that comes with an in-state rivalry, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider it one of the most important games of the season for the Arizona State women’s basketball team.

The Sun Devils need a win in the final game of the regular season, against the No. 9-ranked team in the country, to help salvage what has turned out to be a very disappointing campaign.

A win tomorrow against the Wildcats (15-3, 13-3) on ASU’s home court would be huge — for a number of reasons.

The game, at high noon in Desert Financial Arena, will be a chance to revenge an embarrassing loss back in early December when the Wildcats proved to be inhospitable hosts, sending the Devils home with a 28-point spanking.  ASU was held to 26.9 percent shooting from the field as the Cats’ defense limited the Devils to 18 points in the first half and then rolled on to a 65-37 victory.

That lopsided loss to a hated rival has been gnawing at the Devils for almost three months.

A victory tomorrow would also be the difference between a winning season and an underachieving .500 season.  ASU is 10-9 overall, with just five conference wins.

And finally, a win would provide a huge psychological boost going into the Pac-12 Tournament, which starts next week.  The thought of a tournament crown stretches the imagination right now, but that would be the Devils’ only avenue to the NCAA Tournament.

The Sun Devils are faced with a mental hurdle that this team must overcome right now. A blow-out loss to then-No. 6 Stanford was followed by a humiliating 12-point loss to California, a team so bad that they had been without a single win before the ASU game.

In the Stanford game, the ASU offense managed just eight points in the first quarter, went into the half with just 22 points, and went on to a stunning 80-41 loss.  The Cardinal shot 48.8 percent from the field, while the Devils finished with an anemic 24.5 percent and were out-rebounded, 24-16.

And the start of the Cal game looked eerily familiar as ASU got off to another dismally slow start, scoring seven points in the first quarter and 11 in the second to create another deep hole by halftime.  The overall results weren’t much different, either.  Again, they were beaten on the boards and connected on just 28.6 percent of their shots from the floor.

Junior guard Taya Hanson (photo above) led an ASU come-from-behind win over Cal in their first meeting on New Year’s Day by burying seven 3-pointers, which tied a school single-game record.  She topped all ASU scorers in their second meeting with the Bears, sinking five treys this time and scoring 17 points, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the 67-55 loss.

Regaining their mojo after embarrassing performances in back-to-back losses will be a real challenge for ASU.

And lately, stepping up to a challenge hasn’t been the Devils’ strong suit.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)