The NCAA tournament is known for upsets, less so in among the women’s teams than the men’s, and the ASU women’s basketball team hoped that it could pull off a major one to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Unfortunately for them, that did not come to fruition.
After a strong first half, the No. 9-seed Sun Devils (23-10, 11-7 Pac-12) faltered in the second hald and fell to top-seeded Notre Dame 84-67 at Savage Arena in Toldeo, Ohio on Monday.
Redshirt senior guard Deja Mann and senior guard Adrianne Thomas finished their collegiate careers leading ASU in scoring with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Redshirt senior center Joy Burke fouled out in the second half, but finished her time in Tempe with seven points and two rebounds while shooting perfectly from the field and free throw stripe.
The Fighting Irish (34-0, 16-0 ACC) were carried by their usual suspects. Senior forward Natalie Achonwa led Notre Dame with a double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds. ACC Player of the Year senior guard Kayla McBride added 22 points, five rebounds and nine assists to add to her sterling year for the Fighting Irish.
The Sun Devils played the Fighting Irish tough in the first half, going to the locker rooms trailing by only six points at 32-26, something in which associate head coach Meg Sanders took pride.
“I thought we battled really well on the boards and our defense was solid,” Sanders said. “We took away their transition game and their second shots and then when (Achonwa) went out with two fouls that stagnated their offense a little bit, and then we hit some tough shots which we needed to do.”
Feeling the heat, Notre Dame had to work to get ASU out of its rhythm to gain an advantage in the second stanza.
“They cranked up their pressure defense and really put the pressure on us,” Sanders said. “I think mentally you have to be able to play through a team like that who is going to come at you hard coming out of the gate.”
Sanders credits Notre Dame’s ability to pull away as a reason for their success during their long win streak.
“They haven’t won 34 games for nothing,” Sanders said. “But that’s where we want to be and one of the things you can take away that’s a positive is (our players) can see what the inches are for success.”
For ASU, Sanders said she believes this game is a great will help prepare the returning players for next season to get back to this game.
“I think they really enjoyed being in this environment,” Sanders said. “This atmosphere has got to be really motivating for them in the spring and the summer and the fall.”
After not playing well down the final stretch of the regular season, Sanders was impressed with their ability to focus and revamp their efforts for the tournament.
“We finish as strong as we wanted to down the stretch in the regular season, but I just wanted to praise them for coming back and playing the way we did the last few games, practicing really hard and getting our momentum back and representing the program really well in the postseason,” Sanders said.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Tonis_The_Tiger