Down 44-41 with time winding down in the third quarter, the Arizona State Sun Devils were sputtering in their attempt to avenge its January loss to USC.
And then, a moment straight out of the SportsCenter Top 10 happened. After the Sun Devils tied the game at 46 on Kelsey Moos’ three-pointer, Sophie Brunner stole the ball away from a USC guard on the other end of the court and chocked up a prayer.
It was answered.
Brunner’s heave from well beyond the half court line banked perfectly into the basket, and as her teammates tackled her to the ground in celebration ASU took a 46-43 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish again. Spurred by a 14-0 run in the final quarter, the Sun Devils ran away with a 69-62 win to improve its record to 18-10 (9-8 in Pac-12 play) headed into Sunday’s regular season finale against UCLA.
Brunner led all scorers with 20 points while center Quinn Dornstauder chipped in 19 for the Sun Devils.
“I have no idea how that went in. I thought I was gonna air-ball it,” Brunner said. “Somehow it went in.”
“She’s a beast, you guys. The kid does full chin-ups with a 45-pound weight between her legs,” head coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “Sophie Brunner has hit more buzzer-beaters - to win games, not just to finish the third quarter - than all the other players I’ve coached combined.”
The win marks a successful response to January’s loss in Los Angeles to the Trojans, as the Sun Devils negotiated their way around USC’s press successfully throughout the game.
“There was a lot of composure this time, and that’s sometimes all it takes to break a press,” Dornstauder said. “Just to take a breath and take a second, and I think the guards did a really good job staying poised and keeping it simple.”
The two teams traded buckets in the early going, as USC held a 16-14 lead heading into the second quarter. That’s when Brunner and Dornstauder began to heat up and take control of the paint, scoring 14 of the Sun Devils’ 15 second quarter points to push ASU out to a 31-29 halftime lead.
While USC’s guards struggled to find open opportunities against the Sun Devils’ zone defense, the Trojans took a brief lead in the third quarter as Alexis Lloyd and Kristen Simon found success in the post. Momentum looked to be on the Trojans’ side as Lloyd’s basket with just over a minute left pushed USC out to a 46-43 advantage.
And then, Brunner happened.
“We felt the momentum shift, we felt good,” coach Turner Thorne said of the half-court heave’s impact. “I thought we kinda cranked it up in the fourth quarter, and got real comfortable with our (defensive) shifts.”
With only No. 15 UCLA left on the regular season ledger, the Sun Devils are nearing tournament time, and do-or-die mode. When asked if her team is finding the form it needs to be ready for the intensity of March, Turner Thorne was confident in how the last two games have served the Sun Devils’ development.
“I do think we’re finding it if you use these last two games as kind of a gauge for us getting connected, playing harder,” coach Turner Thorne said. “I think with Kelsey (Moos) back now and everyone kind of excited and getting their second wind - it feels good.”