2014 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals: Trojans survive Sun Devils to 'Fight on' to semis
Seattle – Things fall apart. At one point this year the Arizona State Sun Devils were ranked No. 11 in the country and enjoying a dream season. Their dramatic 59-57 loss to the USC Trojans in the second round of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament Friday afternoon capped a forgettable end to their season.
Starting with a surprising loss to rival Arizona, the Sun Devils lost five of their final seven regular-season games. They weren't able to right the ship in time and came up one shot short in their quarterfinal matchup against USC.
Give full credit to USC and coach Cynthia Cooper. They battled through their own adversity and now have a semifinal date with Stanford Saturday night at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks.
"We've had some bumps in the road," said the first-year Trojan coach. "But even in games we've been a little inconsistent, we've always stepped up to the plate. We stepped up to the challenge again tonight."
This quarterfinal thriller wasn’t decided until the final buzzer. Deja Mann’s desperation three in the final seconds left the Sun Devils with their heads in their hands and the Trojans with their arms in the sky.
The back and forth contest saw ASU down nine with just over eight minutes remaining. After a timeout, they began a fateful comeback.
Kelsey Moos was in position to be a hero after grabbing a steal and taking it for a layup to cut the deficit to 49-47.
"We just needed to come out really strong and have a really solid second half," said Moos. "In the end they hit a couple good shots. We just needed to get shots and hit shots ourselves."
USC freshman Courtney Jaco then hit a three to put the Trojans up 57-51 with four and a half minutes remaining.
Katie Hempen dialed long distance and tied the game up at 57 a little more than two minutes later but that would be the end of the road for the Sun Devils.
A Kiki Alofaituli jump shot gave the Trojans the final, decisive points of the game before Deja Mann missed two three pointers in the final 13 seconds.
"Heartbreaking game for us," said a downcast Charli Turner Thorne, ASU's head coach, after the game. Looking forward to a once certain NCAA Tournament ticket, she went on to say, "I do think we should be in the tournament. I'm probably not totally objective, but I've been doing this for 27 years and I've had teams with lesser resumes get in, so I think overall we have done enough."
For Arizona State their troubles were of the shooting variety. They shot just 7-for-20 from the field (35 percent) but managed to hit three out of six from downtown and six of eight from the free throw stripe.
There were valleys, but there were also peaks too. Sophie Brunner capped a 9-0 run for ASU with a jump shot that put the Sun Devils up 21-12. It was USC’s turn to put together a run and they finished the first half on an 11-2 streak over the final 7:26 of the first half to grab an unlikely share of the lead. All things considered, USC coach Cynthia Cooper had to be thrilled to head into the locker room tied at 23 with two of her best players barely contributing.
The speed and athleticism of Sun Devil guards Deja Mann, Promise Amukamara and Elisha Davis frustrated the Trojans in the first half, but with Barrett and Crook on the court to begin the final frame USC was a different team.
Barrett struck first, converting a layup and the foul to put USC up 26-23 and give them their first lead since the 14:22 mark of the first half.
Next, it was Crook’s turn to make up for the lost first half time. She buried a deep three, let out a roar and extended the USC lead to 33-29 with 16:04 left in the game. Crook’s next shot, another three, gave USC its largest lead of the game up to that point at 40-32 and had the Sun Devils sweating.
"It was difficult to watch my teammates going through a little shooting slump," Crook said, speaking on her lost first half. "My teammates didn't give up on me. They told me, pick it up Crook, be ready. I just played for my teammates and the second half was ours."
Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne called a 30-second time-out with a little over eight and a half minutes left after Kate Oliver netted a mid-range jumper that put USC up nine, 49-40. From there, just like their entire season, the Sun Devils were so close to the dream yet so far away.
For USC, their surprising season continues tomorrow night as the No. 5 seed tries to pull a magic trick on the Stanford Cardinal and lock in an NCAA Tournament bid.