WHAT: NCAA Tournament First Round – Sun Devil Women’s Basketball (22-9, 11-7 Pac-12) vs. Vanderbilt (18-12, 7-9 SEC)
WHEN: Saturday at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT
WHERE: Savage Arena, Toledo, Ohio
RADIO: NBC Sports Radio AM 1060 (coverage begins at 7:30 a.m.)
The Arizona State University women’s basketball team opens play in the 2014 NCAA Tournament this Saturday when it faces the Vanderbilt Commodores out of the Southeastern Conference. Game time at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio, is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET (8 a.m. in Arizona).
The winner of the early tilt will advance to Monday’s second round game where it will meet the winner of Saturday’s other first round contest between No. 1 seed Notre Dame (32-0) and No. 16 seed Robert Morris (21-12).
The Sun Devils (22-9, 11-7 Pac-12) are returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. That appearance was the last of six in a seven-year stretch, which included a school record five-consecutive bids from 2005-09 and the program’s only two Elite Eight appearances (2007, 2009).
Calling the Sun Devils surprise guests at this year’s ‘Dance’ might be – depending on who you ask – an understatement. Coming off a 13-18 campaign and a ninth-place finish in the Pac-12 in 2012-13, more of the same was forecast this season as the Pac-12’s coaches (10th place) and media who cover the league (ninth place) predicted ASU would not be moving into the upper echelon of the conference anytime soon.... Never mind that last season ended ASU’s streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances, or that it was the program’s first losing season since the term ‘Y2K’ was en vogue.
Fast forward to March and ASU once again finds itself among the 64 teams given a chance to compete for the sports’s greatest prize. How did the turnaround happen so fast? To borrow the tagline made famous years ago by the late John Houseman, the Sun Devils achieve success ‘the old-fashioned way. They earn it.’
No, it has not been easy. But it has also been no accident. Anyone is capable of making an off-balance buzzer-beater, catching a Hail Mary or landing a haymaker. But when you are 12-1 in games decided by five points or less and/or overtime, ‘luck’ is usually in attendance somewhere else. Although playing six of their final eight games away from home got the best of them in late February and early March, the Sun Devils will now look to once again display the brilliance that had them on the doorstep of the AP top 10 early last month after winning 20 of their first 23 contests.
Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game can be seen live on ESPN2. Beth Mowins (play by play) and Stephanie White (analysis) will call the action. Although multiple games around the country will be going on, coverage of ASU’s game will remain from start to finish in ASU’s home market. For those not in the area, click here for more information on ESPN’s coverage of the tournament and how the game can be accessed when it is not being aired in other markets.
The game can also be heard live on NBC Sports Radio AM 1060. Coverage will begin at 7:30 a.m. in the Valey. Veteran broadcaster and the state of Arizona’s 2010 Broadcaster of the Year Jeff Munn is in his 10th season as the voice of ASU women’s basketball.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
• ASU was one of three schools – Stanford and Colorado – to start Pac-12 play with only one loss in non-conference play. For ASU, it was the sixth time since 1986-87 (first season of Pac-10/12 play) that it entered league play with only one loss.
• Arizona State is one of only two schools in the Pac-12 (Stanford) that had both their men’s and women’s basketball teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
• With their win over Arizona on Feb. 4, the Sun Devils have now won 20 or more games 10 times since the 2000-01 season. Only Stanford (13) has accomplished the feat more times in the Pac-10/12 during that span.
• The storyline of ASU’s success this season has been teamwork. Ten Sun Devils have scored in double figures; seven have led/tied for team lead in scoring; seven have led/tied for team lead in assists; and six have led/tied for team lead in rebounds.
• ASU was ranked as high as No. 11 in the AP poll this season (Feb. 3).
• ASU’s RPI heading into the NCAA Tournament is No. 33. The Sun Devils were as high as No. 9 the first week of February.
• ASU’s non-conference schedule included a pair of wins over Top 25 teams. ASU defeated then-No. 11 North Carolina 94-81 in OT at the Cancun Challenge on Nov. 29. On Dec. 30, ASU came from behind to beat then-No. 20 Syracuse, 63-60, in Tempe. ASU’s only loss in non-conference play came on the road in the season’s second game to a San Diego squad, which had its best start in school history winning its first 15 games. The Sun Devils led by as many as 11 in the first half of their 85-78 loss at Washington State (Jan. 3). The difference in the game for ASU proved to be 15 missed free throws (28-43). ASU recorded its third win against a Top 25 opponent when it defeated then-No. 15 Cal 68-59 in Tempe on Jan. 17, ending the Bears’ Pac-12, regular-season winning streak at 19 games. The Sun Devils dropped their first contest to a ranked opponent when then-No. 4 Stanford came to Tempe and defeated ASU 80-56 on Jan. 20. Stanford would hand the Sun Devils another defeat, 61-35, on Feb. 14 in Palo Alto as would Cal in the rematch (74-63) on Feb. 16 in Berkeley.
• ASU’s earlier 10-game winning streak tied the second-longest run in program history. The string was ASU’s longest since it won a school record 15 straight in 2009 (after losing first two Pac-10 games won next 15). ASU’s five-game winning streak in Jan. - Feb. represented the 21st time since 2001 that it had a winning streak of five or more games.
• ASU has scored 80 or more points 10x, has shot 50 percent or higher 8x and has had 15 or more assists 16x, including a season-best 26 vs. Oregon (Feb. 2).
• ASU has held to opposition to 25 percent or less from 3-point range 11x this season. On Jan. 26, ASU did not allow a 3-pointer at Colorado, ending CU’s streak of making at least one triple in 285 straight games. On Feb. 14, ASU held Stanford without a 3-pointer, the first time the Cardinal did not connect from long range in more than a year.
• Thirteen of ASU’s wins this season have come when they were either trailing or ahead by only one point or tied at some juncture in the last five minutes of regulation. The Sun Devils are 12-1 in games decided by five points or less AND/OR overtime. The one loss came in their most recent contest vs. USC (59-57) in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.
• In the final minute of its six Pac-12 wins that were decided by four points or less (vs. UCLA, at Utah, at Colorado, vs. Oregon State, vs. Oregon, vs. Colorado), ASU shot 57 percent from the floor and was +6 in turnover margin (1/7).
• ASU enters the NCAA Tournament ranked among the top third in the Pac-12 in rebounding defense (1st/34.9 rpg), FG pct. (3rd, 41.7), offensive rebounds (3rd/14.5 rpg), scoring margin (4th, +4.7), turnover margin (4th/+1.2) and steals (4th/8.3 spg).
• ASU has won the battle of the boards in all but 11 games. They are 4-7 in those contests – at San Diego (Nov. 13 - L), vs. Miami (Dec. 21 - W), vs. UCLA (Jan. 12 - W), vs. Stanford (Jan. 20 - L), at Colorado (Jan. 26 - W), vs. Oregon St. (Jan. 31 - W), at Arizona (Feb. 9 - tied in rebounds - L), at Stanford (Feb. 14 - L), at Cal (Feb, 16 - L), at Oregon (Feb. 28 - tied in rebounds - L), at Oregon St. (Mar. 2 - L).
• ASU’s bench is outscoring the opposition’s bench by an average of 14.1 points per game (29.7-15.6). It has scored 40 or more points 5x, including a season-high of 53 vs. Oregon (Feb. 2).
• Freshmen Sophie Brunner (96) and Kelsey Moos (75) and senior Joy Burke (73) have combined for half of ASU’s 448 offensive boards.
• Ten different Sun Devils have scored in double figures this season – Mann (20x), Hempen (15x), Burke (12x), Brunner (11x), Moos (11x), Thomas (10x), Amukamara (7x), Davis (4x), RS-sophomore Eliza Normen (1x) and freshman Quinn Dornstauder (1x).
SERIES HISTORY VERSUS VANDERBILT
The Sun Devils have split their only two meetings with Vanderbilt with each team winning on its home floor. The first competition between the two teams was contested in the second round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament (Mar. 18, 2002). The Commodores, who were the top seed in the Midwest Regional, prevailed in that contest, 61-35, over the Sun Devils who were the No. 9 seed. Current Sun Devil associate head coach Amanda Levens was the leading scorer on that Sun Devil team (16.7 ppg).
More than three years later (Nov. 11, 2005), the two teams would meet again in the 2005-06 season opener in Tempe. In that contest it was the No. 20 Sun Devils, who pulled off the upset over the No. 17 Commodores, 69-60.
A victory on Saturday would propel the Sun Devils to the second round against either No. 1 seed Notre Dame or No. 16 seed Robert Morris.
The Sun Devils and Fighting Irish have met on three previous occasions, including one NCAA Tournament contest. The two teams split the first two meetings – both played in Tempe – with ASU winning 82-57 in 1983 and Notre Dame coming out on top 81-52 in 2002. The stakes were much higher the last time the two teams crossed paths in 2005 as they were playing for a berth in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. For ASU, a win meant not only advancing to the regional semifinals for the first time in 22 years, but they would also have the opportunity to play the game on their home court as Wells Fargo Arena was slated to host the Regional that year. For the Sun Devils it would be a night to remember at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., as they battled back from a 13-point, first-half deficit to claim a 70-61 win.
The Sun Devils have never met Robert Morris.
TURNER THORNE GUIDES SUN DEVIL WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TO ELITE STATUS
The all-time winningest coach in program history and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in career wins (324), Charli Turner Thorne has turned Sun Devil women’s basketball into one of the nation’s premiere programs since taking over in 1996-97. Included in ASU’s earlier run of 13 consecutive postseason appearances (2000-12) were a school record five-consecutive NCAA Tournament bids from 2005-09. During that time the Sun Devils qualified for the Elite Eight on a pair of occasions, making ASU one of only 15 programs in the country to have qualified for the Elite Eight at least two times between 2007-12.
This season Turner Thorne helped the Sun Devils post one of the best turnarounds in the country as they went from a 13-18 record and a ninth-place Pac-12 finish (5-13) last season to a 22-9 record and fourth-place Pac-12 finish (11-7). Included among ASU’s 22 wins this season are three triumphs over Top 25 teams.
On Jan. 25, 2013, Turner Thorne became the third Pac-12 coach to reach 300 victories following ASU’s 60-53 win over USC, a game in which ASU came back from 16 down in the second half.
A closer look at Turner Thorne’s path to 300 puts into perspective the incredible 180-degree turnaround Sun Devil women’s basketball has undergone since she came to ASU. To reach 150 wins it took Turner Thorne 272 games (150-122 - .551) as she rebuilt a program that had an aggregate record of 20-60 in the three years prior to her arrival and only two NCAA Tournament wins in its history. It would take her 215 games to get 150 more wins. Since picking up her 150th win at ASU, Turner Thorne is 174-84 (.674). Included in those wins are eight of Turner Thorne’s 11 NCAA Tournament victories.
Most recently, Turner Thorne led the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time in her ASU tenure. Among schools that qualified for this year’s NCAA Tournament, ASU’s nine NCAA bids since 2000 are the second-most in the West.