March 17, 2007
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Arizona State talked about reaching the Final Four before beginning the NCAA tournament. The Sun Devils barely made it out of the first round.
The upstart Highlanders appeared to be nothing more than a minor hurdle for 10th-ranked Arizona State. Instead, the Sun Devils had to hustle to avoid one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history.
"W-H-E-W. Whew," a relieved ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said afterward. "That's called Sun Devil defense. Obviously, we did not shoot the ball very well. I mean to be able to shoot 35 percent and win a game in the NCAA tournament, that was just grit. It was absolute grit tonight."
The Sun Devils (29-4) pulled out the victory by outscoring UC Riverside 19-2 after Chanel Foster's basket with just under eight minutes remaining gave the Highlanders a 48-38 lead. ASU trailed by 15 points three times earlier in the second half.
"We played awfully tight," Turner Thorne said. "They did a great job of attacking us, and coming out and giving us everything that we wanted. Or didn't want. We had amazing team defense in the second half."
The Highlanders shot 8-of-24 and committed 12 of their 19 turnovers after halftime.
"I could definitely tell they were getting tired," said ASU's Aubree Johnson, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. "We bring in so many people. As the game progresses, we really try to wear people down."
UC Riverside played without Kemie Nkele down the stretch. The Big West Player of the Year had 16 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 4:13 left.
ASU plays sixth-seeded Louisville on Monday night in a second-round game of the Greensboro Regional. The 25th-ranked Cardinals (27-7) beat 11th-seeded Brigham Young 80-54 earlier Saturday night.
Teams seeded 14th have never won an NCAA tournament game since the current format was adopted in 1994. Only one team seeded 14th or lower has prevailed in the first round - 16th-seeded Harvard beat top-seeded Stanford in 1998.
The Sun Devils trailed 32-25 after a miserable first half in which they shot 9-of-27 and committed nine of their 15 turnovers. Emily Westerberg and Johnson, ASU's senior leaders and top scorers, combined for only six points.
The Highlanders (21-11) scored the first eight points of the second half for a 40-25 lead, prompting the UC Riverside fans on hand to increase the volume of their "UCR, UCR" chants. The school is located about 60 miles east of Galen Center.
Amber Cox's only basket put UC Riverside on top 44-29 before the Sun Devils finally put it together, outscoring the Highlanders 28-6 in the final 13:10.
"The pressure made us play a different style," UC Riverside coach John Margaritis said. "I think an interesting statistic was we only had two assists the entire game. I thought we had plenty of chances to score enough points to win."
Nkele said she felt frustrated having to sit and watch when the outcome was decided.
"It's not the first five minutes that wins the game," she said. "It's a 40-minute game. The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins."
Westerberg had an off-night, shooting 3-of-12 for eight points. But she made two free throws and a basket in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
"When you see the confidence in your coach's eyes and the confidence in your players' eyes, you know that you're going to do whatever it takes to win," she said. "You know that even if you're down 15."
The Highlanders started fast, taking a 16-7 lead with some help from the Sun Devils, who shot 2-of-12 and committed four turnovers in the first 8 1/2 minutes. ASU battled back, drawing within two points twice before being outscored 7-2 to finish the half.