Through the first half, it was clearly advantage fifth seed ASU (20-9); but a messy third quarter had fans on the edge of their seat biting their nails.
ASU, however, proved that they can finish a game strong.
The Devils took down the 12th seed Colorado Buffaloes (12-18) 66-49 in game one of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
Senior Courtney Ekmark tallied 18 points - all from beyond the arc - and junior Robbi Ryan added 13 and five assists to help push the Devils across the finish line.
The old saying with March Madness is that ‘anything can happen’. Certainly this was the case.
After limiting CU to just 17 first-half points, the Buffs outscored the Devils 23-14 and trimmed the lead to just three points.
Ekmark, who scored five of her six threes in the second half, helped keep ASU from surrendering the lead.
“I just kept shooting it with confidence,” Ekmark said. “I knew I had a couple in-and-outs in the first half, so I had to stay aggressive.”
The aggression was also what Ekmark considered to be a key factor in staying ahead of Colorado.
“They came out and kind of jumped on us at the start of the second half, and that’s not what we wanted to do at all,” Ekmark said. “Just trying to get the momentum, shift it back in our way and keep the aggressiveness.”
Coach Charli Turner Thorne noticed a difference in the way the team performed as well.
“I thought we had great moments, but we definitely weren’t at our normal selves, as connected as we usually are,” Turner Thorne said. “So I’m really proud of our team for just staying with things and stepping up in the fourth quarter and putting a really resilient Colorado team away.”
Aside from Ekmark’s shooting, several factors prevented ASU from having the rug pulled from underneath them.
The bench play by Arizona State helped to spark the surge in the fourth quarter. Junior Kiara Russell drove into the lane for the score and the foul, and moments later, senior Sophia Elenga weaved through two defenders under the hoop to additionally draw a foul which led to a second three-point play.
After CU’s scoring tear, the defense locked down and held Colorado to just nine points in the fourth quarter while ASU tabbed 23 of their own.
ASU continued to control the rebounds and took advantage of five fourth-quarter turnovers by CU, which combined dug the Devils out of the rut to claim game one.
“This is a veteran team,” Turner Thorne said. “I think that maybe one of the knocks on us a little bit at times is we’ll kind of, ‘okay, we got this,’ and we’ll take our foot off the gas. They took their foot off the gas, and you can’t do that in March. You can’t do it in our conference.”
The monkey is off of ASU’s back as they will prepare for Friday’s matchup against fourth seed UCLA (19-11), and no one is more excited than Ekmark to keep on playing.
“I love it. Let’s play as many games as we can.”
ASU will tipoff with UCLA Friday at 12:30 p.m. MST. It will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network and can be heard on NBC Sports Radio AM 1060.