With just about a month to practice before the season started, most people expected some sloppy play in the return of college basketball.
The Sun Devils (2-0) played that way for most of Friday’s game against Virginia Commonwealth (1-1), but stellar play in the fourth quarter propelled Arizona State to a 49-40 victory.
Another rough offensive night
Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne mentioned in her pregame “Tip from the Tunnel” that ASU needed to limit turnovers and take care of the basketball. That was not the case in the first half.
The ball was flying all over the place and it felt like a whistle was blown every time down the floor. There was no flow to the game. The Rams and Sun Devils went to the halftime locker room with 14 and 15 turnovers respectively.
The Sun Devils cleaned it up in the second half, not turning it over once in the third quarter and ending the game with 20 turnovers.
“The poor shooting is related to (the fact that) we are not in-sync offensively,” Turner Thorne said. “I feel like VCU, who doesn’t usually zone that much, zoned a little bit more today and we didn’t really anticipate that.”
The young Sun Devils squad shot 15-65 (23.1 percent) from the field, and only made one three-pointer in 15 attempts. There were multiple scoring droughts throughout the game by both teams and ASU did not score a field goal in the last four and a half minutes of play.
“We knew that we had to bring (energy) ourselves,” said junior guard Taya Hanson. “We just kept punching and bringing each other up. I felt we had phenomenal energy today.”
Hanson and Walker shine again
ASU seemed to have a handle on VCU, considering they only trailed for 42 seconds the entire game. Until Hanson, who ended with 12 points and five rebounds, picked up her third foul halfway through the second quarter. It gave the Rams some momentum on offense.
VCU was without its leading scorer, senior guard Tera Reed. She was out with an injury from the Rams Wednesday night game against St. Mary’s, where she had 22 points.
That means it was time for Madison Hattix-Covington to go to work. The redshirt junior ended with a game-high 16 points and gave the Sun Devils fits on defense all night.
Eboni Walker came to the rescue for ASU in Hanson’s absence. After her second career double-double, she duplicated the performance, posting a team-high 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“Eboni is just better all the way around,” said Turner Thorne of her performance.
She also mentioned that Walker is playing harder, more consistently, and has even improved her jump shot.
“I know this year with the younger team, some of us returners, our roles have become a little bit bigger,” Walker said.
Of her 13 rebounds, five were on the offensive glass. ASU had 26 offensive rebounds, but only 11 second chance points to show for it.
Defense! *Clap Clap* Defense!
Turner Thorne came into the Zoom presser chanting those exact words with a smile on her face. Most coaches would probably do the same if their team held the preseason Atlantic-10 favorite to 21 percent shooting and 40 points.
Not to mention taking four charges and forcing 23 turnovers.
In what was a poor offensive showing for the Sun Devils, they still managed to keep the Rams at bay by controlling the boards 53-36, recording nine steals, and forcing numerous cold streaks.
“No matter what the outcome is as far as offense, defense is what we take a lot of pride in,” Walker said.
The Sydnei Caldwell Effect
Arizona State clang to a two-point lead to start the fourth quarter, then sophomore Sydnei Caldwell was a spark off the bench.
The ball moved on offense and they got open looks, and on the other side of the court, Caldwell was in the right place at the right time.
She drew two charges in a matter of minutes, sending the ASU bench into a frenzy and making Desert Financial Arena seem somewhat normal once again.
Not to mention diving on loose balls to keep possession and locking in on defense as well. Caldwell only finished with seven points, which included a big bucket in the fourth quarter, but the Sun Devils were plus-10 with her on the court in 18 minutes.
Sydnei 'Clutch' Caldwell getting it done on both ends of the court pic.twitter.com/llfySTYfll— Sun Devil WBB (@SunDevilWBB) November 28, 2020
“What a response to come back and play better defense and play better offense,” said Turner Thorne.
Caldwell struggled in the team’s first game Wednesday night, going 0-4 from the field with two turnovers.
“Whatever I can do to help the team get the job done, I’m going to do it,” Caldwell said of her bounce back. “Whether it’s diving on the ground, taking a charge, anything they need.”
The Sun Devils will play St. Mary’s on Monday afternoon in the final game of the Global Sports & Events Tip-Off event.