ASU women's basketball hungry for more in NCAA Tournament

The Sun Devils look to advance to the Elite Eight

When this season started, ASU women’s basketball – like every other team in the nation – had certain goals that it wanted to accomplish and set out to achieve.

It wanted to make the Sweet Sixteen, which had previously been elusive for the Sun Devils the past three seasons as ASU fell in the second round each March. Last weekend, though, in Coral Gables, Florida, No. 5 seed ASU (22-10) won a thrilling matchup against No. 4 seed Miami (25-8) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Portland, Oregon.

ASU will play against No. 1 seed Mississippi State (32-2) on Friday night for a chance to play in the Elite Eight against either No. 2 seed Oregon (31-4) or No. 6 seed South Dakota State (28-6) on Sunday.

“It is just amazing,” senior forward Kianna Ibis said. “It is something that I have dreamed about. … I had always been to the second round, but we could never make it over the hump. We are excited that we made it over the hump, and that we are going to the Sweet Sixteen and our season isn’t over.”

ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne acknowledged that every season has a journey. At the beginning of this season, Turner Thorne said she encourage her team, especially the seniors, to capture moments and “enjoy the ride.”

Turner Thorne even gave the team vintage Polaroid cameras, and she specifically recalled redshirt senior forward Courtney Ekmark using hers while ASU was in Florida. For the four seniors, every “next game” in the NCAA Tournament could be last time they put on a Sun Devil uniform.

With that goal now a reality, Ekmark added that the Sun Devils want more and continue to stay focused and motivated.

“We are not content,” Ekmark said. “We are not done. … We are really hungry and confident.”

A matchup against Mississippi State will be a tough task, though, which Turner Throne and her team understands. 

With coach Vic Schaefer and a stellar lineup, which includes senior center Teaira McCowan and graduate transfer forward Anriel Howard, she knows what Mississippi State has with its explosive offense and stifling defense. 

McCowan, who is 6-foot-7, averages 18.3 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, while Howard averages 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs also have various players that contribute to its 86.6 points per game throughout the season.

With an offensive style combined with a defense that has allowed just 57.5 points per game, Mississippi State will certainly be a challenge for the Sun Devils. Throughout the season, ASU has averaged 65.8 points per game, including not scoring more than 60 points thus far in the NCAA Tournament while allowing just 57.7 points per game.

“It is definitely on our defense,” said Ibis, who described tempo as a key factor. “We have to be connected and we have to play Sun Devil basketball and just listen to what Charli says. She has the game plan, and if we listen to that, we will most likely win.”

ASU will need to continue to defensive prowess while increasing its offensive numbers. Against the Hurricanes, the bench, including senior forward Sophia Elenga, junior forward Jamie Ruden and freshman guard Iris Mbulito, played a vital role, especially on offense.

Throughout the season, Turner Thorne has praised the depth she has this season.

“I think that is what makes us dangerous,” Turner Thorne said.

Turner Thorne said this matchup might simulate a UFC fight with how physical it could become. With the schedule her team has faced in the nonconference, including Baylor and Louisville, and the Pac-12 slate, she believes ASU will be ready for anything. 

With that challenge-filled schedule, ASU has competed with every opponent, including winning a fair share, so the Sun Devils won’t shy away.

“We have a lot of confidence, right now,” Ekmark said. “We have proven that we can play with the top teams in the nation. Now, it is just time for us to go out there and take it.”



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

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