The Arizona State Sun Devils won’t be hosting regional NCAA Tournament games this year - but they’ll still get their shot to win the whole thing.
After hosting a pair of games in Wells Fargo Arena before falling to No. 7 seed Tennessee last season, the Sun Devils (19-11, 9-9 Pac-12) are back in the tournament this year as a No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 seed Michigan State on Friday.
“It was just a relief just to know where we’re going, and to know we’re not in UConn’s bracket,” forward Sophie Brunner said. The No. 1 Huskies will serve as the top seed in the Bridgeport regional.
The NCAA Tournament appearance marks the fourth in four years for ASU seniors Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder and Kelsey Moos.
“Hopefully this is our best one yet, we have pretty high goals,” Moos said. “We just want to really come together and peak at the right time.”
“(There’s) that sense of urgency knowing that if you lose - you’re done,” Brunner said. “As seniors we really have to bring it. it’s gonna be our last go around so we have to go as far as we can and I think we’re all just focusing on being in the present and taking it one game at a time.”
Rather than only needing to hold home court for two games to reach the Sweet 16 like they could’ve done last year, ASU will instead have to win on South Carolina’s home court twice - including a likely matchup with the Gamecocks — to move on to the Stockon portion of the bracket.
“I think this will give us a little edge, make us hungrier, because we’re not paying at home,” Brunner said. “We’re playing on the road, it’ll be a hostile environment and i think we just gotta be ready for it.”
The game will take place in Columbia, S.C. as the South Carolina Gamecocks earned the Stockon region’s top seed. No. 1 seed South Carolina will serve as host for the Rounds of 64 and 32, and if ASU beats the Spartans it’ll play the winner of the Gamecocks and UNC Asheville.
Michigan State enters Friday’s matchup with the Sun Devils after concluding a 21-11 season with a third-round loss to Maryland in the Big 10 tournament. The Spartans are led by senior guard Tori Jankoska, whose 22.5 points per game average was a team-high.
With the regular season well in the rearview mirror and conference tournaments wrapped up, now’s do-or-die time for ASU’s season.
“Having that win-or-go-home mentality is really huge,” Moos said. “We just have to be get really hungry and aggressive and just go out and play every game, every possession like it could be our last. I know our team can do that, we can outwork teams when we put our minds to it.”