No. 17 ASU (9-2) returned home for their final non-conference game of the season, and they played the perfect opponent before next Sunday’s contest with Arizona (9-1).
In a game with several turnovers on both ends, the Devils came out on top with a 68-52 victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs (6-4) Thursday afternoon.
Leading the scoring was senior forward Courtney Ekmark with 17, followed by senior forward Kianna Ibis with 15.
“We try to be as aggressive as we can,” Ibis said. “We have to bring a sense of urgency and help our team out as mush as we can.”
“One thing we are focusing on is our leadership and our team leadership,” Ekmark added. “Our coaches can only do so much. We always talk about having a team-led team.”
A bright spot in this game was junior guard Kiara Russell, who may not have had the largest stat line, but she provided strong defensive and offensive help in 21 minutes off the bench.
“She always plays so hard and brings us that spark and that energy off the bench,” Ekmark said. “She’s fun to play with.”
“Her energy on defense really helps our team,” coach Charli Turner Thorne added. “It’s a huge game for her going into Pac-12.”
It was a level of competition the Devils have had a few times already this season, and despite the expectation of winning, the Bulldogs gave ASU plenty to handle.
The glaring statistic, 17 turnovers against an unfamiliar zone defense.
“We can debate if the turnovers were forced or unforced,” Turner Thorne said. “They took us out of flow, and we had some silly turnovers. But as the game went on, we got better.”
This was not the cleanest game played by ASU, so why was Fresno State the perfect opponent?
This year’s Pac-12 has no strangers at the top of the standings. Both Oregon schools are perennial powerhouses, Utah and California have yet to lose, and Arizona has lost one game - despite being at home.
This game acts as a benchmark before the long road ahead.
“It’s just going to get harder from here,” Ekmark said.
“I told our team this was going to be a good game before the break,” Turner Thorne included. “They got all their starters back from last year and they are playing well. They are well coached and a tough team.”
Fresno State was predicted to finish third in a Mountain West Conference that featured Boise State in the tournament last season. In addition, they lost by just one point to ASU’s conference-rival USC at the end of November.
After the holidays, conference play begins for the Devils on Sunday, December 30th. They take on rival Arizona in Tucson.
Tipoff will be at 5 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network or heard on NBC Sports Radio AM 1060.