ASU women’s basketball selected as a No. 5 seed in NCAA Tournament

An ESPN error accidentally released the bracket prior to its intended broadcast

ASU women’s basketball is dancing into March Madness, again, and will take its talents to South Beach.

No. 22 ASU (20-10) was selected as the No. 5 seed in the Portland regional and will face No. 12 seed UCF (26-6) in the first round at 4 p.m. Phoenix time on Friday. The game will be on ESPN2, and the teams will face off inside the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Florida, at the University of Miami. 

The Sun Devils will have a potential second round matchup with No. 4 seed Miami (24-8) or No. 13 seed Florida Gulf Coast (28-4) on Sunday at an undetermined time.

ASU has advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season, so coach Charli Turner Thorne and her team aren’t new to this stage. With the preseason and Pac-12 gauntlet this season, ASU feels especially prepared.

"This team knows that if they do what they need to do, they will win," Turner Thorne said.

However, a challenge looms in order for the Sun Devils to advance through the second round as ASU has only played past that point once in this tournament appearance streak, a Sweet 16 run in 2015. 

Last season as a No. 7 seed, ASU beat Nebraska but then fell to Texas in Austin, Texas. However, UCF, Miami and FGCU all will bring different challenges for the Sun Devils during this NCAA run. ASU will look to control tempo and play “Sun Devil basketball," starting with the matchup against UCF.

This season, senior forward Kianna Ibis leads the team with a team-high 14.3 points per game, and she also averages 6.5 rebounds per game. Redshirt senior forward Courtney Ekmark is the only other player to average double-digit points with 10.2 per game, but ASU has a deep team with experience throughout the lineup, including freshmen guards Iris Mbultio and Taya Hanson.

ASU didn’t have a chance to hear its name called on Selection Monday with the typical suspense. ESPNU released the bracket on its broadcast a few hours before the selection show was scheduled, and the bracket spread throughout the internet quickly.

ESPN decided to do coverage at 2 p.m. MST when it was supposed to be officially released at 4 p.m. on ESPN. The company then released a statement after the initial mistake, making a decision to move official coverage to the earlier slot on ESPN2. 

A watch party was planned, but didn't happen because of the error. ASU was practicing when its name was officially called.

Ibis recalled the moment vividly. She was shooting some free throws to warm up when Turner Thorne called the team to a huddle, telling the players what happened and that they were going to prepare for UCF early.

For Ibis, though, she was disappointed, but she said she was more disappointed for the freshman, who haven't experienced Selection Monday before. Turner Thorne was shocked when she was notified what happened.

"(Since I have been a coach) this has never happened before," Turner Thorne said.

Many people throughout the country weren't pleased with the incident, including Oregon star guard Sabrina Ionescu and WNBA players Skylar Diggins-Smith and Natasha Cloud.

Shortly after the initial ESPN statement, the NCAA released a follow-up statement. This moment has significance because this doesn't happen often, but a similar instance occurred in 2016 with the men's tournament.

Turner Thorne said that she wasn't necessarily upset to find out early since she hates the anticipation on Selection Monday. However, she added the situation certainly changed watch party plans.

Ekmark had a similar approach.

"We saw before that it had been leaked, but we couldn't find anywhere online who we were playing," Ekmark said. "The coaches told us after we warmed up, and I think it was actually really exciting. We all wanted to know, and I really wanted to know who were playing right now because, now, it is like we have an opponent. We actually have somebody to look forward to playing."

ASU can't wait to start NCAA Tournament play, and Ibis and Ekmark, along with fellow seniors Charnea Johnson-Chapman and Sophia Elenga, there is an increased motivation.

Ibis wants to make more memories, and she said hopefully the team can advance to at least the Sweet 16.

"It is one-and-done," Ibis said. "It is one (loss) and our college careers are over."

With March Madness finally here, Ekmark adds that every player has excitement.

"This is the most special time of the year, and this is what we worked for all offseason and all summer," Ekmark said. "So, now, we are going to take the moment, enjoy it and leave everything out on the court."



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

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