Behind strong performances from Taya Hanson and Eboni Walker, Arizona State (1-0) opened its 2020 women’s basketball campaign with a 56-47 victory over Stephen F. Austin in its opener at an empty Desert Financial Arena.
Hanson matched a career-high in points with 14 and also added in six rebounds. Additionally, Walker had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Despite some turnovers, sloppiness and sluggish shooting at times against a stout Stephen F. Austin defense that mixed up its looks, the Sun Devils were able to prevail.
“We are a young team and it’s been a difficult situation with COVID and everything. We are just getting the ball rolling right now,” Hanson said. “We’re learning how to punch back and come together as a team to make things happen. Defensively, we are really trying to focus on that going into next game. But all in all, we’re just going to get better.”
As for others, guard Jamie Loera came in off the bench and dropped in a quick eight points in her first minutes of action.
Loera has been dealing with prolonged injuries for much of the last few seasons, and with a new season in store, she was able to take advantage of the opportunity while finally fully healthy.
“I had my teammates on my side. They really trusted me and we’ve been working hard these last couple of months,” Loera said of her return. “I was just excited to get back out there. It’s been a while.”
Last year, Stephen F. Austin went 23-6 and appeared to be on its way to an NCAA Tournament berth under head coach Mark Kellogg. Much of the roster returned from that squad, and they gave the Sun Devils all they could handle in the opener.
After going up by as much as 10, the Lumberjacks continued to chip into the ASU lead. The Devils would need clutch buckets throughout much of the second half, just like a buzzer-beating shot by Walker to end the third quarter.
Ultimately, it would end up being a good test and opening act for ASU as they improved to 1-0. Five new players on the roster ended up seeing their first collegiate minutes, and it was a good battle to get their feet underneath them in maroon and gold.
Prior to tip-off, the game also got off to a later start time because of some delayed COVID-19 protocols.
Ultimately, all ended well and everyone was safe to play, but it was a reminder of perspective for head coach Charli Turner Thorne and her squad as they try to see the bigger picture of this season and how much they value the game.
“You see all the games getting canceled around the country and just the fact that we got to play was a win,” Turner Thorne said. “We’re going to value every game that we get this year and have fun and work hard just trying to get better...It’s different, but it’s basketball. We’ll adjust to the new normal this year and hope that we get to keep on playing.”