ASU women's basketball was physically outmatched all afternoon in a 55-44 loss to No. 4 Stanford in Tempe Sunday afternoon.
The Sun Devils (20-10, 10-8 Pac-12) started off slowly for the second straight game, only putting up seven points in the first quarter on 3-16 shooting.
The Cardinal (25-5, 14-4) pulled away from the Sun Devils thanks to a 12-2 run to end the first half, pushing their lead to 29-16. The lead remained unthreatened for the remainder of the game as ASU continued to struggle to make shots.
Stanford's bigs stifled driving ASU players at the rim all game, forcing ASU to shoot just 5-20 in the game on layups. The Cardinal also out-rebounded the Sun Devils 42-33.
Senior forward Jamie Ruden, who is listed at 6 feet 2 inches, was tasked with battling a tall Stanford front court. Ruden has gotten used to matching up against opponents a couple of inches taller than her, but she didn't use the team's lack of size to excuse ASU's struggles.
"We can't make excuses for that," Ruden said. "We have to box out no matter what."
ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne pointed towards execution as the seminal reason for their struggles dealing with the Stanford frontcourt.
"That's probably the biggest team in the conference," Turner Thorne said. "I always get a little nervous about that. They kind of worked us on the boards and just their size bothered us, but at the same time, if we would've boxed out and had good position, we probably would have been OK. I still think it was less their size and more our execution."
In the second quarter of the game, ASU was dealt a massive blow on the injury front as senior guard Kiara Russell had to be helped to the locker room after suffering a knee injury.
The Russell injury took the air out of the arena and her team as well.
"I don't think we can overstate the impact it had when she got hurt," Turner Thorne said. "That was the unluckiest thing that could possibly happen, to have one of your starters lost for the rest of the season."
With a key contributor in Russell likely out for all of postseason play, Turner Thorne will need players to step up in her absence.
"It's a next woman up mentality, we've had it all year," Turner Thorne said. "We haven't had her for other games, so we'll just do the best we can."
Losing Russell is an enormous blow for the Sun Devils, with players noting that her value comes in more ways than just the game itself.
"She's one of our senior leaders, starting guards," senior guard Robbi Ryan said. "She brings something to our team that people don't see on the stat sheets."
Turner Thorne has instilled a mentality in her team when it comes to dealing with adversity that has stuck with them.
"One of the big things she's taught us over the years is 'next play,' so having that next play mentality of pushing forward and pressing on and kind of forgetting what's behind and just focusing on the present moment," Ruden said. "I think if we do that, we are going to have a fun rest of the season."
The Sun Devils won't have much time to dwell on the injury, as it will get ready to face No. 12 seed California in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on March 5 at 12:30 p.m. MST in Las Vegas.
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