Coming off of a weekend series sweep in the Rocky Mountains where No. 19 Arizona State (13-3, 4-1) led from the first basket on in both games, the Sun Devils were hit with an early obstacle in Friday’s 68-49 win over Washington State.
The Cougars (8-9, 3-3) took an early lead after hitting the first shot of the game and even led with 27-26 with under five minutes left in the second quarter.
But a hard-nosed defensive effort carried the Sun Devils to a dominant second half in which they outscored Washington State 37-19 to earn a comfortable 19-point victory.
“We’ve been in games where we’ve been down like that before, so it wasn’t exactly anything new,” said senior forward Sophie Brunner. “We just tried to focus on getting stops and making sure they don’t score as much. And in the second half we did a really good job of that.”
The Sun Devils own the best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (53.8) and proved it in the second half. Arizona State let up just seven points in the fourth quarter and held the Cougars game total 24 points below their season average of 73.5 points per game.
“We had a great second half,” said head coach Charli Turner-Thorne. “We just came out and worked harder. I thought we were a little soft in the first half.”
Defense is what ultimately won the Sun Devils this game, but it was Brunner on the offensive end who had what Turner-Throne called an “All-American performance.” The senior had her fourth double-double of the season scoring 20 points and 15 rebounds.
“One of my biggest jobs is to rebound, so I take that to heart and my goal every shot is to get a rebound,” Brunner said. “That’s my mentality and I do whatever my team needs from me on offense and defense. Today there were just open shots for me and my teammates did a really good job at giving me the ball.”
The Maroon and Gold, who usually rely on their bench play, were outscored 19-6 by the Cougar bench on Friday. Brunner’s tremendous performance made up for the lack of bench production.
“She (Brunner) had to do more today because other people weren’t. She does what she needs to do and all I kept doing in the timeout was say, ‘could someone please rebound like Sophie,’” Turner-Thorne said.
The two other Sun Devils with double-digit figures were freshman Reili Richardson with 15 points and senior Quinn Dornstauder with 11.
The game finished with all smiles for Arizona State, but a scary event did take place with 1.7 seconds left in the first quarter. Dornstauder went up for a layup, colliding with Washington State freshman Cameron Fernandez. Fernandez hit her head on the hardwood and was carted off the court on a stretcher. After about a 25 minute delay in the game, play resumed.
“Nobody’s happy to be in a play like that,” Dornstauder said. “I’m not too sure what even happened and all I could say is that I hope the best for her and I really hope that she makes a quick recovery.”
At 4-1 in conference play, the Sun Devils are now tied with No. 8 Washington for second place in the Pac-12. Sunday’s 6 p.m. matchup against the Huskies features senior Chantel Osahor, who leads the nation in rebounds per game (13.6) and senior Kelsey Plum, who has the nation’s most points per game (30.7).
“They are probably the most efficient offensive team I’ve seen this year,” Turner-Thorne said. “This will be by far our biggest defensive challenge of the year.”