Wins don’t come easy in Pac-12 women’s basketball. Sunday was another indicator of that as ASU (14-6, 5-4) took on USC (11-8, 1-7).
The Sun Devils prevailed 68-59 against a USC squad that only has one win in conference play. However, the record isn’t indicative of the team itself, as the Trojans have fallen in a variety of close contests, including No. 6 Stanford, Cal and UCLA. USC has also gone up against No. 9 Oregon State and No. 5 Oregon.
“They are the best 1 and whatever team (referencing one-win conference team) you have ever played,” said head coach Charli Turner Thorne. “They are good. They have good talent, they are well-coached, and they are going to win some games.”
So, what was the difference as ASU bounced back from a loss on Friday?
The answer would be ASU’s bench. 10 different players recorded points, and ASU outscored USC’s bench by a score of 31-14. Senior forward Kianna Ibis didn’t have her best outing of the season, although she did score 11 points on 5-13 shooting. She fouled out late in the fourth quarter, and that gave way for the reserves to play in big minutes.
“Really excited about our bench,” Turner Thorne said. “I thought our bench was amazing. I am really excited to build on this game, and balance the minutes a little better. That’s our advantage going into the second half of conference.”
Ibis still made a solid impact on Sunday, but statistically, the numbers weren’t her best. Senior forward Charnea Johnson-Chapman came in to fill the role, and made some big rebounds during Ibis’ absence.
“Whenever Kianna is out, I feel like that’s the mentality for everybody (to back up her teammate) because she’s such a big part of the team,” Johnson-Chapman said. “I was just focused on rebounding.”
Johnson-Chapman ended the game with seven boards, which led the team. Among others, freshman forward Jayde Van Hyfte and junior forward Jamie Ruden had seven points in seven minutes. Redshirt senior forward Courtney Ekmark added in 11 points, as she was tied with Ibis in double-figures.
Early on, the Trojans got off to a good start. They forced ASU late into the shot clock, and made things difficult for the Sun Devils offensively. They led by four points after the first quarter. However, a 10-0 ASU run around the six-minute mark of the second led to a big momentum shift.
“Their ball pressure, we weren’t quite ready for it at the beginning of the game,” junior guard Robbi Ryan said. “But we got used to it and adjusted.”
Those adjustments paid off in the second quarter, yet USC still wouldn't go away. They trailed by three at the half, and they stayed in the game courtesy of big shots from senior guards Mariya Moore and Aliyah Mazyck. Moore finished with a game-high 19 points, and Mazyck added 14.
However, a sequence occurred in the fourth quarter when Mazyck fouled out of the game. That left a scoring workload on the shoulders of Moore, and the Devils tightened the hinges defensively. With under five minutes remaining, ASU put forth a stretch where they held the Trojans scoreless for nearly three minutes, and it shut the door on the game.
“The highlight of the game for me, besides winning, was the defense of our bench,” Turner Thorne said. “We actually got better defensively at times when we subbed. It was really encouraging.”
If there was one thing Turner Thorne wasn't pleased with, it was the team’s rebounding. Johnson-Chapman had some big plays on the glass, but as a team, ASU only out rebounded USC 39-38, and they lost the offensive rebound battle by five (14-9).
Rebounding and defense has always been a staple of ASU’s teams, and that was the one area the Sun Devil coach looked to clean up moving forward.
Nevertheless, ASU strung out a win and bounced back from the team’s loss to UCLA. The bench was pivotal, and it now sets the stage for a rivalry game against Arizona next Friday. The Devils can avenge their loss to the Wildcats at the beginning of conference play.
“We are just excited to play them again,” Turner Thorne said. “They are really doing a great job...We know that we didn’t play well (the last time against Arizona), and we are definitely excited that we get another shot at them. It’s always fun - A rivalry week, and we get to have it at home this time.”