Of the hundreds of thousands of brackets submitted to ESPN’s Women’s Tournament Challenge, 96 percent picked top-seed South Carolina to defeat No. 8 seed ASU women’s basketball in their NCAA Tournament second-round matchup on Sunday afternoon.
Until the fourth quarter, it seemed as though 96 percent of brackets would be wrong.
The Sun Devils, despite a valiant effort in a hostile environment, fell short down the stretch in an absolute heartbreaker, as their up-and-down season came to an end at the hands of the Gamecocks by a final score of 71-68.
"It was just a tough game, just a really tough game," ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne said through Sun Devil Athletics. "We really were right there to take it, credit to South Carolina. It's no secret, I didn't think we should be playing a one-seed in the second round on their home floor, and I think we proved that in both of our games."
South Carolina (29-4), having trailed by as many as 11 in the third quarter, used a late steal-and-score by senior forward A’ja Wilson to cut the lead to 53-51 and quickly tied it on the first possession of the fourth quarter.
A three-point play by Wilson just over a minute later supplied her team with its first lead of the second half.
Not long after that, a technical foul on Turner Thorne for arguing with the officials allowed the Gamecocks to open up a six-point lead by way of two free throws and a three-point play on the ensuing possession, as the hosts began to seemingly take control of the game.
"You know what, I probably deserved it, and that's fine," Turner Thorne said of the technical foul call. "Obviously there was something that they saw, I just thought the consistency was off. If they're going to call it that tight, try to balance it out in such a big game, and I didn't feel like it was."
Despite such adversity, the Sun Devils (20-13) fought all the way back with a magical 11-0 run to take a 68-67 lead on a clutch three by sophomore guard Sabrina Haines.
After a couple of key turnovers allowed South Carolina to go back up by three, senior forward Sophie Brunner’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer came up empty.
"I guess our mindset was just to never back down," Haines said. "We've never been that team to just back down from a challenge. We don't care who you are, we don't care what your rank is, we're going to play our basketball regardless. So, we're down 10, and we needed to get to work, and we got to work. We just weren't able to finish it out."
Brunner was a force for ASU throughout in her final game as a Sun Devil, especially in the first half. She carried her team through a strong second-quarter run that opened up a 39-33 halftime advantage. She went on to lead her team with 20 points on top of nine rebounds and four assists.
"It's been a great ride," Brunner said. "I'm really thankful for all the people I've met along the way, being coached by the best coach and coaches and being with the best teammates, I couldn't ask for anything more."
With the loss, ASU’s season — as well as the illustrious careers of its seniors — comes to a difficult end, but the Sun Devils certainly didn’t go down without a fight.
And for that, after a season filled with adversity, Turner Thorne is nothing but proud of her team’s heart and character this season.
"This has been quite a season for this team," Turner Thorne said. "We haven't been fully healthy, our full roster, since November, and then we got it back for the NCAA Tournament and we were hoping for the chance to peak and do something really special and got this close, so it's tough. I'm really proud of our team. We competed incredibly well, and I could not be prouder of our basketball team."
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