ASU's smothering defense halts WSU in Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals
SEATTLE – Survive and advance? Win ugly? Grind it out? Go ahead, pick one. They all describe Arizona State's 67-48 win over Washington State in Friday's Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament quarterfinal matchup at KeyArena.
The Sun Devils live to see another day and will play the winner of Friday afternoon's meeting between (6) UCLA and (3) Stanford Saturday at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks and Pac-12 Now.
Arizona State led 19-16 at the break, so it's safe to say defense was the name of this game as both teams threatened to break a dubious record. Thirteen: the fewest points scored in the first half of a Pac-12 Tournament game, held by Utah (2014) and Washington (2013 vs. Arizona State).
"Arizona State is as tenacious as advertised," WSU head coach June Daugherty said. "They get after you defensively for all 40. They just go to a whole different level once their defense is going."
The numbers don't reflect well on either squad, but numbers don't tell the whole story.
After putting up 66 points – 33 in the first half – in their opening round win over Oregon on Thursday, the Cougars shot a measly 27.3 percent from the field. They had more turnovers (8), than made shots (6). To make matters worse, WSU missed 10 free throws in the half and 13 for the game.
There were a few contributing factors to the low scoring, one being a left knee injury to Thursday's hero, guard Lia Galdeira. Five minutes into the game, Galdeira went down hard and banged her knee. She went straight to the locker room to get the knee wrapped and stretched out.
She returned to the game at the 11:19 mark but wasn't her normal, explosive self. She limped through the first half and finished with five points on 1-for-6 shooting.
The biggest factor, as Daugherty mentioned, was the Sun Devils' smothering defense. Known for its on-ball pressure, ASU made life on the perimeter difficult for any WSU ballhandler. ASU ended up with four steals in the half and consistently forced the Cougars into contested attempts late in the shot clock.
But this shouldn't come as any surprise. Arizona State led the Pac-12 in scoring defense this season, giving up only 55.8 points per game. Washington State averaged 68.9 points per game this year.
ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne singled out guard Promise Amukamara and her work on the WSU guards, especially Galdeira, as a key to the win.
"The plan was to have Promise shut her down," Turner Thorne said. "Promise just does an amazing job of making them work for every touch, making them work for anything and everything they do."
Amukamara was the only Sun Devil to score more than two points in the first half as she finished with nine and used her speed to routinely get in the paint.
The second half promised to open up, as Galdeira came out of the locker room looking refreshed. ASU switched up its attack by feeding the post on offense.
Tia Presley looked like she too was ready to take over. She broke loose for two transition layups in the first three minutes of the second half to bring the Cougs to within three at 25-22.
It was all for naught, though, as she awkwardly slipped and fell at the 16:20 mark and immediately clutched her left leg. Once she got up with help, she grimaced in pain and limped to the locker room. Surprisingly, she checked back in less than three minutes later but couldn't summon a magical comeback.
Whether it was the injury or the defense, Presley couldn't find her groove in her last crack at a Pac-12 Tournament title.
"I knew it could be my last Pac-12 game if I didn't play hard, so I just tried to come out and be aggressive," she said. "It's really hard to play against Arizona State and match their intensity."
After taking only one shot and playing four minutes in the first 20, Sophie Brunner, the Sun Devils' second-leading scorer in the regular season, turned it on in the second half as ASU's inside-out attack proved to be too much for the Cougs.
"In the first half I wasn't aggressive and I was just going soft," Brunner said. "In the second half we worked well together and ran the floor and got easy looks."
Brunner, Kelsey Moos and Quinn Dornstauder, all front-court players, scored ASU's first 16 points of the second half. Seven minutes in, the approach yielded a 39-27 lead.
Try as they might, Washington State just couldn't consistently crack the Arizona State code. After Galdeira's driving, twisting layup at the 5:55 mark trimmed the deficit to 50-39, Brunner responded on the next trip down by boarding her own miss and dropping in the follow up to essentially put the game out of reach.
In her last Pac-12 game, the senior Presley showed why she will go down as a WSU legend. She fought through injury and suffocating defense to lead her team with 16 points. She also snatched seven steals, one off the tournament single-game record of eight.
"What a career Tia Presley has had," Daugherty said. "For her to be the fifth-leading scorer in this league at her size, hats off to her and to the career she's had. We're going to miss the Tia part of the Tia and Lia show."
Galdeira, despite her hurt knee, wound up with 12 points and four rebounds.
For Arizona State, a semifinal showdown awaits Saturday night, giving the Devils a chance to continue to prove doubters wrong.
Prior to the start of the season, Pac-12 coaches selected the Sun Devils to finish seventh in the conference. All they did was finish the regular season second in the Pac-12 and rack up 26 wins, second-most in program history.
The three post players for ASU – Brunner, Moos and Dornstauder – combined for 34 points and 18 rebounds while the main guards, Amukamara, Elisha Davis and Katie Hempen, totaled 20 points and nine assists.
Always a coach first, Turner Thorne had an eye on improvement as well as opportunity after the game.
"There are things we can do better," Turner Thorne said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for us to play a great team on a neutral floor and play better basketball."