ASU women's basketball ready to play in Miami for NCAA Tournament

The Sun Devils will play UCF for the first time in program history

ASU women’s basketball is healthy and ready to make an impact in the NCAA Tournament.

ASU (20-10) will play as a No. 5 seed in the Portland regional, and its first-round matchup pits it against No. 12 seed UCF (26-6) at Watsco Center on Friday in Coral Gables, Florida.

Although this will be the first meeting between the Sun Devils and the Knights, coach Charli Turner Thorne knows some key facts about the opponent. Turner Thorne praised UCF coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who previously coached at Albany, and she added that she knows that UCF has an athletic lineup that play aggressive and extended zone defenses. 

Turner Thorne noted she will never overlook any seed in March Madness.

“There are no bad teams in the NCAA Tournament,” Turner Thorne said.

When reflecting on how ASU has managed against zone, Turner Thorne thinks her team has had mixed success but has played well against different defensive styles throughout the season. She added that the veterans have seemed to love playing against the zone.

However, senior forward Kianna Ibis said that when against a zone, ASU has to continue to move the ball and stay aggressive, looking to score.

For redshirt senior forward Courtney Ekmark, she never minds playing against a zone because that defense usually fares well with shooters, giving them open looks at times.

“I love playing against a zone, so I am excited,” Ekmark said.

UCF has some stellar players, especially at the guard position with junior Kay Kay Wright and seniors Kayla Thigpen and Sydnee McDonald.

Wright leads the charge with 18 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, but she also averages 3.6 turnovers. Thigpen adds 8.8 points per game while McDonald scores 6.9 points a contest, including making 55 3-pointers on the season.

Turner Thorne figured ASU would go East to North Carolina or Florida. Ibis and Ekmark were each surprised to hear that every team in Coral Gables was a Florida team, including who ASU would play in the second round, either host No. 4 seed Miami (24-8) and No. 13 seed Florida Gulf Coast (28-4)

They don’t necessarily mind, though, because as Ibis explained, the team likes to play in front of sizeable crowds. Ekmark has no issue either, and she said that doesn’t “scare” the Sun Devils.

“I wouldn’t call it intimidating,” Ekmark said. “I think I would call it a fun challenge. Florida is a great place to play.”

Turner Thorne also doesn’t really care, especially because she said her team will be healthy and ready and that ASU usually plays better not near Arizona in the postseason.

“It is all good,” Turner Throne said. “I think sometimes when you are close to home, you don’t get away from all the distractions. You can put it both ways since it will be easier for their fans to get there, for sure, but we don’t care about that. We have played in some of the toughest environments in the country and in the Pac-12 with hostile fans.”


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

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