Despite faltering a bit down the stretch, the ASU women’s basketball team earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
The No. 8-seed Sun Devils (22-9, 11-7 Pac-12) will take on No. 9-seed Vanderbilt in the first round Saturday morning in Toledo, Ohio.
The Commodores (18-12, 7-9 SEC) started 5-1 in conference play, but dropped eight of their last 10 to wind up tied for eighth in the SEC.
Vanderbilt is led by senior guards Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister, who average 19.1 and 13.9 points per game this season, respectively.
Although she is not overly familiar with Vanderbilt this season, coach Charli Turner Thorne has scouted and knows the pedigree of her opponents.
“This is a storied SEC program, so it’s going to be a tough game,” Turner Thorne said.
Should the Sun Devils advance, they will most likely face No. 1-seed Notre Dame in the second round.
The Fighting Irish (32-0, 16-0 ACC) finished the regular season undefeated, one of only two teams in the country to do so.
Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd leads Notre Dame with 18.5 points per game. Senior guard Kayla McBride is second on the team in scoring and assists with 17.5 and 3.75 per game, respectively.
Turner Thorne is well aware of Notre Dame’s track record and performance this season.
“They just execute so well, and they’re always one of the best offensive teams in the country,” Turner Thorne said. “It seems like no matter who’s there, they just really do a great job.”
Turner Thorne said the time off between her team’s exit from the Pac-12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament has helped the Sun Devils.
“This break has been fantastic for us,” Turner Thorne said. “We’ve gotten rest, we’ve gotten a lot of really good practices in, being able to address some of the things we weren’t doing well, scoring mainly, so I feel good about us.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Katie Hempen addressed her team’s improvement in practice this week and how it will impact them moving forward in the postseason.
“This past week has actually been a really great week of practice for us,” Hempen said. “We’ve worked harder this past week in practice than any other practices that we’ve been in, and I think that’s going to be very helpful for us throughout the tournament.”
Turner Thorne does not think her team will be shell-shocked by the tournament due to its past experiences this year.
“We play in a really tough conference, we’ve played with big crowds, great teams, so there’s really not anything we haven’t seen,” Turner Thorne said. “So I do feel like they’ve got a good inner belief and confidence in themselves.”
Redshirt senior center Joy Burke was a sophomore the last time ASU made the NCAA Tournament, and she realizes how special this opportunity is.
“It’s really exciting because, especially with this team, it’s been such a team effort,” Burke said. “I’m excited to go out there since it’s probably going to be my last game, whenever we’re done playing, so I just want to play like it is my last.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Tonis_The_Tiger