ASU women's basketball beats UCF, heads to NCAA Tournament round two

Redshirt senior forward Courtney Ekmark finished with a game-high 20 points

Before the women’s NCAA Tournament started, redshirt senior forward Courtney Ekmark was excited to play against a zone defensive scheme, and she followed with an impressive display against it.

The No. 5-seed ASU women's basketball (21-10) won 60-45 against No. 12-seed Central Florida (26-7) at Watsco Center on the University of Miami campus to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

ASU will play on Sunday against No. 4-seed Miami (25-8), who advanced with a 69-62 win against No. 13-seed Florida Gulf Coast (28-5), for the opportunity to go to the Sweet Sixteen. 

ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne started the postgame media session with high praise for UCF coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.

“(UCF is) a tough team,” Turner Thorne said. “We play in the best conference in the country in our humble opinion, the Pac-12, and we play aggressive physical teams and they were a very tough team. She has done an amazing job. I am proud of my team for taking care of business today.”

Ekmark led the charge with a game-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-7 on three-pointers, and seven rebounds. Fellow senior forward Kianna Ibis added a big-time performance. Ibis had a double-double output with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

ASU went into halftime with a 26-16 advantage, and before restarting the game, Ekmark said that Turner Thorne motivated her to shoot her shots.

Ekmark didn’t disappoint as she started the third quarter with back-to-back three-pointers, both from the left corner, but throughout the game, she did more than that. Ekmark also scored multiple layups in transition and to follow an offensive rebound.

Abrahamson-Henderson said she was impressed with the baskets Ekmark converted, especially the crucial momentum-starting three-pointers after halftime.

“Obviously, with the shooter that she is, those are big shots,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “(For her) to hit those shots in this game in this atmosphere and in this gym, those are definitely big shots for her.”

Although junior guard Reili Richardson said that the team did well with adjustments, she said ASU struggled at times with the UCF defense. Richardson said that sometimes there weren't enough ball fakes and that she and other players would dribble into a trap, which made the offense stagnant in moments.

Ibis agreed, describing how physical and aggressive UCF played defensively. 

“It has been awhile since we played against a really physical team like them,” Ibis said. "So, we just knew we had to be aggressive and exceed their aggressiveness and keep pushing.”

Although ASU gained momentum to build a 22-point lead late in the third quarter, UCF made a run, including a 6-0 spurt to start the final quarter to cut the lead to 12. UCF's Kay Kay Wright, who finished with a team-high of 18 points, her average for the season, led the slight comeback.

This forced Turner Thorne to call an early timeout. In the huddle, she sent a message to her team that ASU seemingly took to heart and finished out the win against the Knights thanks to defense and the rebound battle, which it won 42-27.

“I told them, ‘We are fine,’” Turner Thorne said. “I just wanted to settle them down. Obviously, nobody is going to go away. It is March. It is win-or-go-home, and they made a great run. I said, ‘Their run is over. Lock it down.’”


Reach the reporter at nahiatt@asu.edu or follow @NATE_HIATT on Twitter.

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