TUSCON, Ariz. — Friday should’ve been a party.
Reeling after a 13-point loss at Washington, the Arizona State Sun Devils returned to the hardwood Friday for the first half of this weekend’s home-and-away series with the Arizona Wildcats.
Freshman forward Kelsey Moos was back in action for the first time in six weeks as ASU (17-9, 7-8 in Pac-12) trekked down to Tucson for their first Territorial Cup matchup of the season, and the Sun Devil led the last-place Wildcats late in the fourth with a chance to rebound from the loss in Seattle.
But rather than secure its 17th win of the season and further assert itself as a strong candidate for the NCAA Tournament, the Sun Devils fell apart towards the finish as Arizona escaped McKale Center with a 62-58 victory.
“We’re not playing a full game at all, not even coming close right now,” forward Sophie Brunner said. “We have the ability, we have the potential, we have the skill. But we don’t have the eagerness, the hunger - what we needed to win today.”
With the loss, the Sun Devils fall to 16-10 with an 8-8 Pac-12 record, putting ample pressure on Charli Turner Thorne’s squad to pull wins out over the course of ASU’s three-game ledger prior to the Pac-12 Tournament.
“I just think that we have this team that is not playing loose, not playing like they need to win or they have to win,” Coach Turner Thorne said. “We’re trying to get them to just play loose and show up and go for it, but I don’t think we are.”
Leading 54-53 at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils seemed in line to walk out of McKale with a victory as Quinn Dornstauder and Sophie Brunner dominated the paint throughout the second half - finishing with 15 and 18 points each to the lead ASU. But the Sun Devils couldn’t keep their composure on the defensive end, and four free throws in a one minute span surged the Wildcats ahead 59-56 with just under forty seconds left.
Brunner answered on ASU’s following possession with a tough bucket in the lane to pull back within one and despite allowing Arizona’s Lauren Evans to sink a jumper to push the lead back to three, the Sun Devils had the ball with a chance to tie. Freshman guard Reili Richardson couldn’t get her three to fall though, ending ASU’s chances of leaving Tucson victorious.
Richardson’s miss in the final seconds was ASU’s sixth miss out of eight tries from beyond the three point line, and ASU was cold from the field the entire game - shooting 24-63 on the night.
“This has been continual,” Turner Thorne said on ASU’s poor shooting performance. “We know we can shoot the ball, this has been our Achilles’ heel all year long.”
ASU won’t have long to sit on this one before having another crack at it, as the Wildcats visit Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday. With only Sunday’s game against Arizona and a trip to Los Angeles to play No. 18 UCLA and USC left on the regular season’s docket, ASU has its work cut out to stamp its place in the Round of 64 come March.
But the Sun Devils will focus on next weekend’s task only when they’ve completed this weekend’s.
“We’re not losing twice to them in a row,” Brunner said. “This game means more than winning and losing.”