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ASU women's basketball gears up for important NCAA matchup against Miami

A trip to the Sweet Sixteen is on the line Sunday night


ASU junior guard Kiara Russell (4) runs a play in ASU's 60-45 win over Central Florida at Watsco Center in Miami, Florida, on Friday, March 22, 2019.

ASU women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne hasn’t been shy discussing the “elephant in the room” when it comes to recent March Madness performances.

In the past three NCAA Tournaments, ASU has ended with a loss to Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas, failing to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. This March, the Sun Devils have another opportunity.

No. 5 seed ASU (21-10) plays against No. 4 seed Miami (25-8) at Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Florida, on Sunday night with a chance for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen next weekend in Portland, Oregon.

For senior forwards Kianna Ibis and Sophia Elenga and senior center Charnea Johnson-Chapman, it would be special to advance. Redshirt senior forward Courtney Ekmark, who was involved with two National Championship teams with Connecticut before she transferred, wants it, as well.

Ibis added that every player has worked for this opportunity this season.

“There were many times where we could have advanced and we were so close in the second game,” Ibis said. “We just have a bit more of a sense of urgency and hunger for that Sweet Sixteen, and I know all of our seniors want it, our juniors want it and we have to continue to get our freshmen on board. If anything, this is the time to do it.”

Turner Thorne said that, despite the pressures of the season, the players still must “rise to the occasion” in the games.

Especially with redshirt junior forward Beatrice Mompremier and senior forward Emese Hof down low, ASU realizes that Miami will be a challenge. Mompremier, at 6-foot-4, averages 17 points and 11.8 rebounds per game while Hof, at 6-foot-3, averages 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Turner Thorne said that Mompremier and Hof remind her about the matchup with Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox from Baylor, and interestingly enough, Mompremier transferred to Miami from Baylor. Miami also has an impressive guard trio with sophomores Mykea Gray and Kelsey Marshall and redshirt junior Laura Cornelius.

Miami has won multiple big-time games this season, including against Louisville and Notre Dame, who are each top-seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament.

“(Mompremier and Hof) are very versatile, and they can run the court very well,” Ibis said. “We just know that it is a team effort with guarding them. We aren’t going to have a one-on-one game the entire time, so we know that we just have to lock in and play Sun Devil defense.”

Offensively in the paint, Turner Thorne described this game as a “hook shot day.”

However, she believes ASU will have an advantage on the perimeter against Mompremier and Hof, saying that they readily stay in the lane and dare players to shoot. 

“It won’t be anything new to any of our players,” Turner Thorne said. “If they don’t come out and guard them, I think we are adept at knowing when we want to shoot."

Then, she gave a slight wink.

“But when (junior forward) Jamie Ruden and Kianna Ibis are in together, that is going to be an interesting matchup, I think," Turner Thorne said.

Although Miami coach Katie Meier said the team didn’t specifically mention a Sweet Sixteen appearance as a preseason goal, the Hurricanes have a goal to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Miami has only been to the Sweet Sixteen once in program history. 

That was in 1992, when the women’s NCAA Tournament field had just 48 teams and only one win was needed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Like ASU, the Hurricanes have had opportunities in recent years to do just that, but they fell short.

Cornelius said every Miami player has been driven to accomplish a Sweet Sixteen run, but against ASU, she said they must improve and stay focused to win. Hof agreed with the statement, saying that the team is motivated.

“That would be awesome,” Hof said. “It is our goal, right now. … We have Arizona State in front of us, and we are going to do everything in our power to win that game.”

Turner Thorne knows the opportunity is on the line, and she said her team has to play Sun Devil basketball and finish to achieve that recently elusive Sweet Sixteen berth.

“If we take care of everything, then we will get what we want,” she said.

ASU plays again in Florida to take on the Hurricanes on Sunday, March 24 at 4:00 p.m. MST. 

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