Fresh off a win the day before, No. 19 Arizona State (5-2) returned to the hardwood of Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday to defeat Tulsa (5-4) 70-52 in the championship game of the ASU Classic.
Junior guard Reili Richardson, and seniors Kianna Ibis and Courtney Ekmark were all named to the ASU Classic All-Tournament team, and Ibis finished with MVP honors after recording a team-high of 14 points in Sunday’s win.
Tulsa upset Alabama to earn its spot in Sunday’s championship game, thus giving the Sun Devils little time to prepare for their opponent. The Golden Hurricane jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, but it would be short-lived once ASU got its footing.
“We just knew that they were going to come back confident,” said Ibis of playing Tulsa after its upset win. “We wanted to show them how we play. They’ve never played against our defense.”
With both teams shooting around 50 percent after the first quarter, ASU would tighten the bolts on the defensive end in the second quarter, and it was spurred by full court, on-ball pressure.
The Sun Devil backcourt continued to create havoc by playing full court, man-to-man defense, which spurred an 8-0 spurt where the team did not allow a point for nearly five minutes.
Head coach Charli Turner Thorne emphasized what the mindset behind the pressure was after the game.
“Crack em. Wear them down. Make them work for every bounce,” Turner Thorne said. “I wanted to do that better this game...It’s our way of getting teams out of their flow. When you are picking up and you are coming down and you can’t just get into offense, it’s pretty effective and it wears people down.”
Similar to a boxer going 12 rounds, that is what ASU did - They wore Tulsa down. The Golden Hurricane continued to put up a fight, and they kept the game within 10-15 points throughout the fourth quarter. Tulsa senior forward Crystal Polk had 14 points, but the depth and the pressure of the Devils would ultimately prove to be too much.
As for offense, Ibis, Ekmark and junior guard Robbi Ryan all finished in double-figures. The unit was a well-rounded attack led by the two floor generals of Richardson and junior guard Kiara Russell.
The point guards were effective, and Russell made her presence felt on both ends of the floor. She drew an offensive foul in the first half, she was 3-4 from the field, and she had five assists in just 15 minutes of action.
Turner Thorne noted after the game that the coaching staff has been cautious with Russell’s minutes due to some minor ankle and foot issues, but she was “fantastic” when her number was called.
“She’s not fully healthy so we sort of limit her practice time,” Turner Thorne said of Russell. “We are very strategic with her...It’s just a loose ankle and she kind of aggravates her foot because of that sometimes, but I thought she had two fantastic games for us. She’s so key. She’s definitely a difference-maker for us right now.”
ASU out rebounded Tulsa 44-31, and they shot 49 percent from the field.
Altogether, the game was a staple of what Turner Thorne basketball is: Defense and rebounding that leads to offense. Tulsa put forth a valiant effort, but it would fall short as ASU pulled away to the ASU Classic Championship.
“I thought that was a good test for us against a team that was feisty and is going to work hard every possession,” Turner Thorne said. “I thought we played through it pretty well and continued to get our young players experience, which was great. It was a good team win.”