Some of the downsides of being a young team is not having the size and strength to deal with more veteran-laden squads and not being used to late-game situations.
Both facets of the game were tested in Arizona State’s (4-1, 1-1) 63-58 loss to No. 9 UCLA (2-1, 1-1) on Sunday afternoon.
The tone was set by the Bruins in the first quarter. Preseason All-American Michaela Onyenwere came out of the gate with a quick six points. She matched her energy on the defensive end by diving on the floor for loose balls and securing offensive rebounds.
Arizona State was overmatched until Onyenwere picked up her third foul with two minutes left in the opening quarter. Down by as many as 17 at one point, the Sun Devils began to climb back into the game with Onyenwere on the sideline.
“It was bad offense and not playing position defense without fouling,” head coach Charli Turner Thorne said of UCLA jumping out to an early lead. “That’s a good kind of overview of the first quarter.”
At a turning point in the first quarter, junior Iris Mbulito dove on the floor for a loose ball. She was able to walk off herself, but sat on the bench in a sling for the rest of the game. Turner Thorne did not have an update on her status postgame.
“(Iris) showed us that being aggressive is what we needed to do,” freshman forward Katelyn Levings said of Mbulito’s effort.
Levings shot a perfect 4-4 from the field, totaling nine points, four rebounds and two assists.
The Sun Devils gained a boost and were able to cut the halftime deficit to nine by holding UCLA to 2-12 (16.7 percent) shooting in the second quarter. Their intensity picked up.
“We’re aggressive no matter what the deficit is,” said Eboni Walker, who led the Sun Devils with 12 points. “I know one thing about this team is that we have heart, we have pride.”
Arizona State was in control for most of the second half from then on. Jaddan Simmons, who finished with 10 points and three assists, was throwing dimes down the floor.
Sydnei Caldwell also made some tough shots to give her eight points on the afternoon, and freshman Maggie Besselink was the battery on everyone’s back.
“I was so proud of Maggie,” Levings said. “She really sparked us to start playing because we started out slow.”
In her first 20 minutes as a Sun Devil, Besselink had three points, a team-high six rebounds, two assists and a block.
“Of course there’s going to be jitters, but my team really talked me through everything and I was confident in what they were saying,” Besselink said of her first game.
Arizona State had an opportunity to tie the game with 17.2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Down by two, the ball was inbounded to Besselink, who drove towards the right baseline and stepped out of bounds.
Coach Turner Thorne emphasized postgame that this was the team’s third game in seven days during finals week at Arizona State, which probably led to some physical and mental fatigue, but was proud of the way they battled back against a veteran and talented Bruins squad.
ASU pushed them to the brink and nearly pulled the big upset after trailing early.
“We have a great vibe,” Turner Throne said. “This team plays hard.”
With ample time to rest this week, the Sun Devils should be ready to challenge another top-10 opponent with No. 7 Arizona on Thursday night in the team’s first road game of the 2020-21 season at the McKale Center.