TEMPE - In the first game after the retirement of legendary coach Charli Turner-Thorne, ASU (1-0) women’s basketball and head coach Natasha Adair built the foundation of her own legacy with an opening night victory over NAU (0-1) by a final score of 69-68.
As the scoreline suggests, it wasn’t an easy one for the Sun Devils. Despite taking a 33-22 lead midway through the second quarter, the Lumberjacks fought back quick and made it a game on ASU. Entering the third quarter, NAU even held a 58-55 lead which they would hold for much of the final ten minutes. Unfortunately for the Lumberjacks, junior guard Jaddan Simmons took advantage of her time to shine.
“She was huge,” said Coach Adair. “She’s the one with the most experience on this court. She’s steady and she’s been that way from day one. Jaddan is very selfless, she leads by example and leaves it all out on the floor.”
That was certainly the case on the 5-foot-9 guard, who filled up the stat sheet with 22 points, six of which coming in the final quarter where she did not come off the court. Simmons leadership and overall presence was key to the closing moments, where she sunk two free throws at the 20 second mark to give the Sun Devils the lead.
“Those two free throws were huge,” said coach Adair. “We needed them.”
“It’s junior season so it’s time to step up,” said Simmons. “We lost a lot of people from last year and I know I have to continue to be a leader in order for the team to be good.”
Simmons would finish the game with 22 points, six rebounds, three blocks, and 37 total minutes played, leading the team in all but boards in those categories.
“I trust her with the ball in her hands,” said coach Adair on her star player. “She has a very high basketball IQ, and I said to her that it’s her turn.”
On the other end, Meg Newman capped off her Sun Devil debut with arguably the biggest play of the night, crashing the boards and coming down with the defensive rebound as time expired to seal the Arizona State win.
“She’s our hustle and she’s our energy,” said coach Adair. “We say finish the game exhausted and leave it all on the court, she was definitely the example of that today.”
It’s been a long time coming for Newman and her signature moment as a Sun Devil. Having suffered a knee injury in the preseason, Newman didn’t see the court at all last year and when she ripped down that key board and landed awkwardly, it was almost deja vú for the former highly-coveted recruit.
“That was the first time in a year and a half someone had come in contact with my knee,” said Newman. “I was a little freaked out but my team rallied around me and got me up.”
Her first game back though, is one Newman was grateful for.
“This last year has been really meaningful for me,” said Newman. “It really made me recognize that we play sports for something a lot bigger than ourselves. I’m just so grateful to be playing with all 13 of my teammates. Being a Sun Devil means a lot to me.”
“They signaled to me that she was okay before I even got to her,” said coach Adair following the winning play. “Meg has worked so hard to get back and this was her first debut and for it to be this way, it was just that moment when I looked down at her and told her how proud I was of her and how proud we were of her.”
While her game-winning board will be the most meaningful of the night, Newman played well in all facets to leave quite the impression on the Sun Devil faithful. With nine points and 11 rebounds and a +17 plus-minus, ASU might have their solidified front-court presence already established just one game in.
Despite the struggles on rebounding and defending that nullified the Sun Devils hot start, coach Adair was more than pleased with the opening night performance.
“Coming out we knew it was going to be new,” said Coach Adair. “Today was not going to be perfect. But just work hard and leave it all on the floor.”