March 6, 2012
The Arizona State women's basketball team begins postseason play this week when it travels to Los Angeles for the 2012 Pacific Life Pac-12 Basketball Tournament.
As a result of finishing in fourth place in the conference's regular season standings, the Sun Devils (19-10, 10-8 Pac-12) earned a first-round bye (byes given to top four finishers) and will open tournament play on Thursday (2:15 p.m. PT/3:15 p.m. MT) when they will face either UCLA (14-15, 9-9 Pac-12 - fifth place) or Arizona (14-16, 3-15 Pac-12 - 12th place) at USC's Galen Center.
Regardless of the opponent on Thursday, the Sun Devils will be very familiar with the opposition as they have faced both UCLA and Arizona twice this season and have played both teams within the last two weeks.
The Sun Devils swept the Wildcats this season, winning 60-45 in Tempe to open the Pac-12 slate on New Year's Eve and then closed out the regular season last Saturday with a come-from-behind, 70-63 win in Tucson. Alex Earl (14 points), Kimberly Brandon (12 points), Micaela Pickens (10 points) and Kali Bennett (nine points, nine rebounds) combined for 45 points in the most recent win. Earl (11 points in the second half) and Pickens (eight points in the final 6:10) played key roles in helping ASU rally from an 11-point deficit in the second half.
ASU dropped both contests to UCLA (64-48 in Tempe on Jan. 7 and 53-38 in Los Angeles on Feb. 23). The Sun Devils were missing two starters -- leading scorer Kimberly Brandon (illness) and Olivia Major (shoulder) -- in the most recent meeting, but still led by as many as 12 in the first half. UCLA got within two at the break and then opened the second half with a 17-6 run to take control of the game. Janae Fulcher, who started her first game of the season in place of Brandon, led ASU with 16 points.
The winner of Thursday's game will earn a berth in Friday's semifinals (noon PT/1 p.m. MT) against either regular season conference champion Stanford (28-1, 18-0 Pac-12), Washington (16-12, 8-10 Pac-12 - eighth place) or Oregon (15-15, 7-11 Pac-12 - ninth place). Friday's semifinals and Saturday's championship game (11:30 a.m. PT/12:30 p.m. MT) will be played at the Staples Center.
ASU went 9-2 in non-conference play and won its first Pac-12 contest (defeated Arizona 60-45 on Dec. 31) before losing three straight games vs. USC, vs. UCLA and at Oregon State to fall into a tie for ninth place in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils then rebounded with five straight wins, including wins on the road at Oregon, at Washington and at Washington State, to climb all the way back into a tie for second place. Consecutive home losses to No. 4 Stanford and Cal and a loss on the road to Utah sent ASU back into a tie for fifth place. ASU then bounced back with three straight wins before road losses at UCLA and at USC. The Sun Devils then closed out the regular season with a win at Arizona.
ON THE AIR
All of ASU's Pac-12 Tournament contests can be heard live on KAZG 1440 AM. Pre-game coverage will begin 30 minutes prior to each game. Veteran broadcaster and the state of Arizona's 2010 Broadcaster of the Year Jeff Munn is in his eighth season as the voice of ASU women's basketball.
Thursday's game against UCLA/Arizona will be streamed live on the Pac-12's YouTube channel while Friday's semifinals and Saturday's championship game will all be broadcast live by Fox Sports Net.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Currently 19-10, the Sun Devils need one more victory to clinch their seventh 20-win season in the last eight years.
ASU will be the No. 4 seed in this year's Pac-12 Tournament, the first time in the tourney's history it has been in the No. 4 slot. The Sun Devils will be seeking their second Pac-10/12 Tournament title. The Sun Devils won the inaugural Pac-10 Tournament in 2002, defeating Stanford in the championship game, 70-63. They have appeared in the tournament's championship game on three occasions, most recently in 2007 when they lost to Stanford, 62-55.
As of Mar. 5, ASU is No. 11 in the nation in blocked shots per game (5.9), No. 13 in FG pct. defense (.342) and No. 14 in scoring defense (52.5 ppg). ASU leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense, blocks and steals (10.5 spg), is second in FG pct. defense and turnover margin (+1.9) and is third in 3-point FG pct. defense (.280) and assists (13.4 apg).
Three Sun Devils were recognized by the Pac-12 on Tuesday as the conference announced its annual awards for the 2011-12 season as voted on by the league's head coaches. Recognized by the league were Kali Bennett (Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, Pac-12 honorable mention), Kimberly Brandon (Pac-12 honorable mention, Pac-12 defensive honorable mention) and Deja Mann (Pac-12 honorable mention, Pac-12 defensive honorable mention).
Nine of senior F/C Kali Bennett's 11 double-figure scoring efforts in 2011-12 have come in ASU's last 16 games. Bennett, who in ASU's win over Washington (Feb. 16) set the single-game school record for blocks (9), also owns the school's single-season record for blocks (82) - old record was 55 by Kym Hampton set in 1980-81.
Currently with 172 blocks this season, ASU has already broken the school's single-season record for blocked shots (134) set by the 2008-09 squad. In ASU's win over Washington (Feb. 16), the Sun Devils also broke the single-game school record (and tied the Pac-12 record) for blocks (16). The 16 blocks were the most ever in a Pac-12 game (two conference teams going head to head).
Four of senior G Alex Earl's five double-figure scoring games in 2011-12 have come in ASU's last eight contests. Twice in that stretch Earl has scored a career-best 14 points -- at Colorado (Feb. 11) and at Arizona (Mar. 3).
Redshirt junior F Janae Fulcher has led or tied for the team lead in scoring three times in ASU's last six games: 16 points at Colorado (Feb. 11), 11 points vs. Washington State (Feb. 18), 16 points at UCLA (Feb. 23). Fulcher started her first game of the season (fifth start of her career) in place of Kimberly Brandon (out due to illness) in ASU's 53-38 loss at UCLA (Feb. 23). She also started ASU's game at USC (Feb. 25).
Junior G Deja Mann has tallied double figures in scoring eight times this season, with six of those instances coming in ASU's last 12 games. During that 12-game stretch, Mann has been ASU's second-leading scorer (8.8 ppg) while shooting 44 percent from 3-point range (12-27). Mann scored a career-best 22 points (most by a Sun Devil this season) in ASU's loss at USC (Feb. 25).
Over the last eight games, freshman G Promise Amukamara, whose brother, Prince, is a member of the Super Bowl XLVI champion New York Giants, has led the ASU in FTs made (17) and attempted (20) and FT percentage (.850). Nearly half (24) of her 51 rebounds this season have come on the offensive end.
The Sun Devils have allowed 20 or fewer points in a half 12 times this season. The nine points scored by Colorado (Jan. 19) were the fewest ever scored by the Buffaloes in a half and tied the second-fewest number of points ever allowed by ASU in a half.
Eight of ASU's opponents have shot below 30 percent this season while only three opponents (DePaul, California and UCLA) have shot higher than 40 percent.
ASU has held 14 of its 28 opponents to 50 or fewer points. Since 2005-06, ASU is 58-2 when it has held the opposition to 50 or fewer points.
The Sun Devils have given up 60 or more points only six times this season (USC - 60, Stanford - 62, Arizona -63, UCLA - 64, , California - 67, DePaul - 73, ).
DEVILS BRING THE `D'
One of the hallmarks of ASU's formula for success over the years has been defense. It has been no different in 2011-12 as the Sun Devils have been consistently coming through with dominant performances throughout the season. How dominant? Thus far in 2011-12 the Sun Devils have held all but one opponent (UCLA) below their scoring average and have held all but four opponents (DePaul, UCLA - 2x, Cal and Arizona) below their field goal percentage for the season. Over the course of this season, the Sun Devils have held the opposition to an average of 13.1 points below its scoring average and 5.9 points below its shooting percentage.
Six times this season ASU has held an opponent 20 or more points below its scoring average -- vs. Eastern Washington (-27.0), vs. UTEP (-24.6), vs. Arizona (-28.2), at Oregon (-28.9), vs. Colorado (-22.9) and vs. Washington (-23.7).
Coming into the Pac-12 Tournament, the Sun Devils are ranked 11th in the nation in blocks per game (5.9), 13th in field goal percentage defense (.342) and 14th in scoring defense (52.5 ppg).
Eight of ASU's opponents have shot below 30 percent this season while only four opponents (DePaul, California, UCLA and Arizona) have shot higher than 40 percent. In addition, ASU has held 14 of its 29 opponents to 50 or fewer points and has given up 60 or more points only six times this season (DePaul - 73, USC - 60, UCLA - 64, Stanford - 62, California - 67, Arizona 63).
ASU currently has the No. 2 shot blocker in the Pac-12 -- Kali Bennett (2nd, 2.8 bpg - 14th in the nation) and two players who are ranked among the top 15 in the conference in steals per game -- Micaela Pickens (10th, 1.9 spg) and Kimberly Brandon (14th, 1.7 spg).
Earlier this week, Bennett (All-Defensive - media and coaches), Brandon (honorable mention - coaches) and Deja Mann (honorable mention - coaches), named to the Pac-12's Defensive Team. ASU's three defensive honorees among the coaches' selections tied Stanford for the most in the Pac-12.