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ASU women's basketball freshmen relish first NCAA Tournament moments

Taya Hanson, Iris Mbulito and Jayde Van Hyfte played in March Madness for the first time Friday


ASU basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne talks with her players as the Sun Devil's are defeated from the Pac-12 Tournament in the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, March 8, 2019.

Taya Hanson will never forget her experience Friday night in Coral, Gables, Florida, with ASU women’s basketball.

Hanson, who hails from Kelowna, British Columbia, played in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. She joined fellow freshmen guard Iris Mbulito and freshman forward Jayde Van Hyfte, who all contributed to a 60-45 win for No. 5 seed ASU (21-10) at Watsco Center against No. 12 seed Central Florida (26-7) in the first round.

“That was such an amazing feeling,” Hanson said. “I come from being Canadian, and watching March Madness to actually being in it, so it just an incredible experience.”

Hanson made the only shot she took, a 3-pointer from the left corner midway through the second quarter, which she said relaxed her and made her comfortable in the moment. Hanson finished with three points and a rebound in eight minutes on the court.

That 3-pointer is a play that Hanson said she would never forget.

“That is definitely one that is going down in the books, for sure,” Hanson said.

Van Hyfte finished with two points, which came on a wide-open layup in transition, and an offensive rebound in four minutes on the court.

Although Van Hyfte didn't play too many minutes this season with veterans above her, ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne explained that she has a knack for always being in the right spot at the right time whenever she steps onto the court.

Like Hanson, Van Hyfte won’t forget this experience, adding that the freshmen are playing for the Sun Devil seniors.

“I had always dreamed about (playing in the NCAA Tournament) since I was a little girl,” Van Hyfte said. “Working so hard and finally being here and playing in it, that is an awesome feeling.”

Mbulito played nearly 12 minutes and created offense throughout her time on the court, finishing with four points, a flashy no-look assist, a rebound and a block. 

Unlike Hanson and Van Hyfte, growing up, Mbulito didn’t dream to play in the NCAA Tournament. Mbultio, who is from Spain, didn’t really know about the NCAA before she came to Tempe, but she said she loved the atmosphere and experience.

Although it might not seem as so, Hanson, Van Hyfte and Mbulito definitely had nerves coming into the game against UCF with how much hype surrounds the NCAA Tournament. However, Mbulito said they wanted to enjoy the moment while playing their roles.

“I think we were nervous, but at the same time, we were excited because it is our first NCAA Tournament,” Mbulito said.

Knowing the pressure from previous experience, junior guard Reili Richardson said she was extremely nervous in the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, adding that the team did what it could to help the freshmen and let them know every player had their backs.

Turner Thorne said she believed this was an impressive first NCAA Tournament performance for the freshmen and senior forward Kianna Ibis agreed.

“They didn't let the nerves get to them or anything,” Ibis said. “We talked to them before the game and we told them to just, ‘Enjoy the moment. It is your first NCAA Tournament and it is win-or-go-home, so go hard.’”

With the win and the first-game jitters gone, Ibis said she thinks, on Sunday night against No. 4 seed Miami (25-8) with a Sweet Sixteen berth on the line, the freshmen will have more confidence.

Van Hyfte echoed her teammates, saying this definitely relaxed any nerves.

“I believe we are all ready for the challenge tomorrow,” Van Hyfte said.

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