DULUTH, Ga. - It looked bleak. Very bleak.
With the ASU women’s basketball team down 40-31 midway through the second half of its NCAA Tournament second-round game against Florida State, ASU senior guard Briann January was fouled hard by FSU senior guard Tanae Davis-Cain.
January hit the floor and yelled in pain as she clutched her right leg.
Less than a minute later, she came out of the game and spent time with trainers both on the bench and in the locker room.
ASU was already missing junior guard Dymond Simon, who retore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee on March 7.
Without their two superstars in the backcourt, a comeback by the Sun Devils looked almost impossible.
Instead, that’s exactly when the flip switched.
No. 6-seed ASU outscored No. 3-seed FSU 32-18 over the game’s final 10 minutes to upset the Seminoles 63-58 at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., propelling the No. 19 Sun Devils (25-8, 15-3 Pac-10) into the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.
“I’ve had some great teams and some great players over the years, and they’ve always made me proud, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team than I am tonight,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said following the game. “What we saw tonight was just staying with things and finding a way, and a whole lot of toughness to go with it.
In March, that’s what it’s about.”
ASU will next face the winner of Tuesday’s contest between No. 2-seed Texas A&M and 10th-seed Minnesota in Trenton, N.J., on Sunday.
After spending about 3minutes of game time getting her ankle taped and testing it in the locker room, January reentered the game at the 6:44 mark and dished out what ended up being the game-winning assist.
“[Simon was] just in my ear [while I was on the bench], just telling me to calm down, stay strong [and] breathe,” January said. “I was shaking, because [my ankle] was hurting a lot.”
With the score tied at 54 in the game’s final minute, ASU junior guard Danielle Orsillo came off a double screen and found herself wide open just left of the top of the key. January got her the ball, and she drained the 3-pointer that put ASU up 57-54 with 32 seconds left.
“I actually had a pretty bad shooting game up until then, so I was jut like, ‘OK, I’ve got to make it,’” Orsillo said. “I just lined it up and shot, and it went in. Thank God it went in.”
Orsillo had made just two of her 11 shots up to that point.
“That’s the type of player [Orsillo] is and the type of focus she has,” Turner Thorne said. “She always wants to take the big shot; she’s just got that mentality. I was glad she took it, and I did believe in her.”
FSU senior guard Mara Freshour could not answer when her 3-ball on the Seminoles’ (26-8, 12-2 ACC) next possession missed the mark, and ASU went on to hit 6-of-6 free throws to clinch the victory.
But the Sun Devils’ rally really started right when January left the floor.
Layups by senior center Sybil Dosty and junior forward Kayli Murphy and a free throw by sophomore forward Becca Tobin cut the Seminoles’ lead to 44-39 with 7:55 remaining.
“That just shows me how much our team has grown in the aspect that we just come together to get it done,” January said. “When I left, we made a push. I was getting updates and I was trying to listen [to the game]. It was amazing how we just came together and people just stepped up and hit big shots.”
And then when January came back, the Sun Devils really caught fire.
Back-to-back 3-pointers in the left corner by junior guard Gabby Fage sliced FSU’s advantage to 46-45, and January then drilled her own trifecta, bum ankle and all, to tie the score at 48 with 5:04 to play.
“I mentally just tried to stay in the game [when I was on the bench] and knew our team needed to pull together and I needed to be a part of it,” January said. “I just didn’t want this to be the last time I had this jersey on.”
The Sun Devils grabbed their first lead of the second half when a jumper by Murphy made the score 50-49 and later extended their advantage to three on a layup by Dosty with 3:09 to play.
The Seminoles knotted the game at 54 at the 1:40 mark when sophomore guard Courtney Ward nailed a rare open 3-point opportunity before Orsillo’s longball broke the tie.
“They hit a big 3-pointer at the end of a shot clock,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “We defended the first couple options really well, and we didn’t defend the third. They came up with a big bucket, and that’s the way basketball goes.”
FSU, the second-best 3-point shooting team in the ACC (.385), hit just three of its 14 attempts from downtown.
The late offensive splurge was uncharacteristic of the general flow of the game, which was generally a defensive struggle.
ASU took a 17-12 lead on a layup by Dosty at the 6:30 mark of the first half, but the Seminoles closed the half on a 12-3 run after January picked up her third foul and spent the rest of the period on the bench.
After the Sun Devils had closed the gap to 32-31 with 12:34 to play, the Seminoles went on an 8-0 run to build their 40-31 lead before ASU’s final rally.
Dosty had 13 points, nine rebounds and four blocks for the Sun Devils, while senior guard Kate Engelbrecht added 12 points.
January finished the game with 11 points, six assists and two steals.
Freshour led all scorers with 15 points and added five rebounds, and Ward had 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Seminoles.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com.