TOLEDO, Ohio – The Arizona State University women’s basketball team came up short in its bid to upset second-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday. The Sun Devils fought hard, but in the end the Fighting Irish proved to be too much for ASU to overcome in an 84-67 loss.
Seniors Deja Mann (16 points) and Adrianne Thomas (14 points) combined for 30 points for the Sun Devils (23-10), who led Notre Dame by three points midway through the first half and were within 10 points seven minutes into the second half.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, a 52-percent shooting effort by Notre Dame (34-0) in the second half combined with being whistled for 16 fouls over the final 20 minutes would ultimately catch up to them. The Irish would use both of the aforementioned factors to their advantage as they outscored ASU 52-41 in the second half to break open what was a six-point game at the half.
Although disappointed with the final result of the game, ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne couldn’t help but express appreciation for her Sun Devil team, of which little was expected this season by most except the team itself .
“We needed to play better to win today, so we will live with that for a long time, but I am so proud of our team,” said Turner Thorne, who led the Sun Devils to their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. “We were predicted to finish 10th in our conference, and pretty much not do anything. We were nationally ranked the entire conference season. And so I am really proud of this team and what they were able to accomplish.”
The Irish were paced by Natalie Achonwa (25 points, 11 rebounds), Kayla McBride (22 points, nine assists) and Jewell Loyd (19 points, seven rebounds), who combined for 66 of Notre Dame’s 84 points.
“They have their big three (offensive standouts) and then they bring their shooters in,” explained Turner Thorne of Notre Dame’s offensive success. “I think this is the best team that Notre Dame has had because of their depth. I don’t remember when they’ve been this deep. That might carry the day for them this year. They have different scorers they can go to if their big three are struggling.”
Coming into the game 3-0 against the ACC Conference, which Notre Dame carried this season with a 16-0 record, the Sun Devils proved to be every bit up to the challenge of taking on one of the nation’s two unbeaten teams early on.
Although the final numbers on the scoreboard may not have reflected it, the Sun Devils pushed the Irish while providing much more resistance than most expected in a game that was being contested a little more than 150 miles from South Bend, Ind.
If they didn’t know it before, the Irish knew they were going to be in for a tough game after a jumper by Kelsey Moos put the Sun Devils up 15-12 with 10:23 remaining in the first half.
Notre Dame led by as many as six on several occasions in the first half. ASU nearly made it a one-possession game at the intermission after a 3-pointer by Mann cut Notre Dame’s lead to 29-26 with 42 seconds remaining.
After Mann’s triple, ASU attempted to force Notre Dame into a turnover after a momentary lapse of concentration on the inbounds pass. The Irish would quickly recover and were able to reclaim a six-point lead at the half after a 3-pointer by Michaela Mabrey.
For a team accustomed to being in total command by halftime – ASU became just the 11th Notre Dame opponent to not trail by double digits at the half – the Irish found themselves in a battle with a Sun Devil squad playing much better than a No. 9 seed is supposed to.
Although the effort was there, ASU was not able to get the same results from its play in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame came out and scored the first six points of the second half to double its lead, 38-26.
A 7-2 run got the Sun Devils within seven. Notre Dame would counter by scoring the next five points to once again go up by 12. The Sun Devils were able to prevent the Irish from extending their lead any more until a layup by Areil Braker put Notre Dame up 53-39 with 11:50 remaining.
Although the Irish would eventually lead by as many as 25, the Sun Devils never gave up and kept fighting until the end.
Sophie Brunner (seven points, 10 rebounds) came up three points short of a double-double. The Midwest native was supported by more than 60 fans, who came from Brunner’s hometown of Freeport, Ill. Despite being low in numbers – relatively speaking to the Notre Dame-partisan crowd of 3,544 – the contingent made itself heard throughout the game.