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ASU Women’s Basketball: Sun Devils season comes to a close in Portland

The curtain was drawn in the Sweet Sixteen

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Portland Regional-Mississippi State vs Arizona State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 Arizona State women’s basketball team drew the curtain on its season in the Sweet Sixteen in Portland, Oregon on Friday night.

The Sun Devils fell 76-53 to the 1-seed Mississippi State. In her final game in maroon and gold, senior forward Kianna Ibis led the team in scoring with 16 points. She was the only player in double-figures.

Both teams played a physical brand of basketball on Friday night. It’s what they have been accustomed to with their style of play.

Some of that physicality led to early foul trouble that hindered ASU early on. Senior forward Sophia Elenga, senior center Charnea Johnson-Chapman and junior forward Jamie Ruden eventually fouled out of the game, and Ibis played with four fouls throughout the second half. She had to sit in the first due to early fouls.

“A lot of the fouls were in the lane driving and we were late. We were silly,” head coach Charlie Turner Thorne said. “We were not a shot-blocking team. We probably had 10 fouls trying to block their shots.”

Additionally, Mississippi State shot 23 more free throws than the Devils. It was a game full of whistles. The Bulldogs had five different players in double-figures as well, and they were led by senior center Teaira McCowan, who had 22 points. ASU also had a variety of turnovers.

ASU competed throughout, continually cutting into Mississippi State’s lead despite some sloppiness. The leads ranged from 7-10 points through the second and third quarter, but the fourth is when the Bulldogs pulled away.

With foul trouble and consistent physicality, MSU’s stingy defense led to a fourth quarter with little drama. Mississippi State out scored the Sun Devils 22-8 in the final quarter, thus providing the big score differential at the end.

“We got away from things. Credit Mississippi State,” Turner Thorne said. “Vic (MSU’s head coach), with his four seniors, coming up short two years in a row, they’re a hungry, hard-working, talented team. All the credit to them in terms of taking it to us today.”

Ultimately, the loss might have been sour but that is nothing to take away from what coach Turner Thorne’s group did this season. Turner Thorne made her 14th NCAA Tournament appearance at the helm in Tempe. She has made 14 out of the 17 trips in the school’s history.

In an opening round bracket that featured three out of four teams from the state of Florida playing in Miami, ASU was the lone team that survived.

Ibis, Elenga, Johnson-Chapman, and redshirt senior guard Courtney Ekmark will now exit the program. After transferring from UCONN, Ekmark finished her final season averaging over 10 points per game.

“I’m really proud of our senior class this year for stepping up and leading our team and working hard,” Ekmark said. “Hopefully that just paves the way for the next group of seniors to come in next year and keep it going.”

Furthermore, Ibis will be remembered as one of the Sun Devil greats in Turner Thorne’s long-running regime. The Omaha native surpassed 1,000 career points and she is the program’s active leader in points, rebounds, and blocks.

She will be remembered for her lethal scoring ability the way she constantly affected games after overcoming early injury issues as an underclassmen. In due time, Ibis could find herself in a WNBA uniform as well with the way she has played during her time as a Sun Devil.

“I just want the team to remember how hard we worked on and off the court,” said Ibis of what she wants her legacy to be at ASU. “Who we were on and off the court, how we stood up to Charli’s standards and her culture, how we treated people, how we played basketball and everything beyond that.”

Moreover, Elenga and Johnson-Chapman served crucial roles as two of the Devils’ interior presences over the last couple seasons. They provided rebounding, defense, and timely plays to help win games.

The defeat in the Sweet Sixteen certainly stings for ASU, but it does not define the season. Once again, Turner Thorne and her group of players provided another successful year in Tempe. With four departures and young talent waiting to step up next year, the Sun Devils will aspire to reach greater heights next season.