ASU women’s basketball found itself in a tough spot after a 15-point loss to USC.
A team once riding the energy of wins over ranked teams like Florida and Kentucky had its dreams of a deep post-season run blurred by injury, inexperience and offensive struggles.
When the Sun Devils left their four-game road trip through the Golden State with just one win – over a struggling California team – it became clear that the pressure was rising, as their level of play simply wasn’t enough.
Sometimes, though, once enough pressure is applied, a spark can eventually be ignited.
"We had a really solid week of practice, I think everybody's really fired up and the energy was great," senior forward Quinn Dornstauder said. "I think that showed a lot in today's game. We weren't able to finish the job out, but I think that the energy was there and it was a step in that direction."
While they were unable to knock off a red-hot Oregon State team, the Sun Devils showed a newfound sense of urgency in Friday night’s 54-45 home loss to the Beavers, especially when they came back to cut the lead to five in the fourth quarter.
But a loss is a loss, and the pressure continues to intensify with each defeat.
"That was a great effort by our team," head coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "You hold Oregon State to 54 points, you expect to win. I thought we battled really well."
For ASU (14-8, 5-6 Pac-12), everything starts with their seniors, and one in particular on the offensive end: forward Sophie Brunner, who had nine points and 14 rebounds in Friday night’s contest.
Brunner, who has led her team in scoring in seven of their 11 Pac-12 games, has played a major role, especially in the absence of the Sun Devils’ main vocal leader, forward guard Kelsey Moos.
The efforts of Dornstauder, a fellow senior who averages 10 points per game this season, haven’t gone unnoticed, as she and Brunner have carried their team – for the most part – through their recent rough patch.
Dornstauder led the way in the loss to the Beavers (21-2, 10-1 Pac-12), tallying 17 points and snatching six boards.
"It's our job to bring that sense of urgency everyday," Brunner said of herself and her fellow seniors. "I thought we played a great game, we just couldn't score that well."
Despite the efforts of those upperclassmen, ASU’s inexperienced guards have struggled in terms of their ability to capitalize on offense. The three freshman guards who started Friday for the Sun Devils – Reili Richardson, Robbi Ryan and Kiara Russell – combined for 10 points on 4-of-21 shooting from the field.
Richardson, despite shooting 2-of-11 for the game and 0-of-4 from beyond the arc, still fired away with a chance to pull her team within two in the final minutes. Her shot didn't fall, but the confidence she displayed certainly pleased her head coach.
"We were right there, it was halfway down," Turner Thorne said. "Good for Reili. She needed to step up and take that shot. She was wide open, and she's a very good three-point shooter. She has been really struggling ... and I think, good for her, just to keep stepping up and believing in herself."
While they may have dropped their fourth straight game Friday, hope has not been lost in Tempe.
The goal of a memorable March is still at the forefront for the Sun Devils, as they proved Friday despite the loss. ASU still has talent and fight, but most importantly, they are led by a group of seniors hungry to finish their careers on a high note.
"It's our last season, we want to go out in a good way," Brunner said. "So right now, we've got to start turning that around pretty fast here."
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