Michelle Smith Feature: Previewing Stanford v Arizona State Pac-12 WBB Tournament semifinal game
The yelling and cheering reverberated down the tunnels of KeyArena and straight into the Arizona State locker room.
The Arizona State Sun Devils, who have been searching for momentum heading into the postseason, found it Friday night in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 Tournament, turning in a gritty, gutty performance that led to a 57-51 upset over No. 3 seed Oregon State and had ASU celebrating.
“We just couldn’t stop smiling,” said ASU guard Robbi Ryan. “We never gave up and we kept playing for each other. We finally put it all together and got a win.”
Arizona State reaches the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time since 2015 and for only the second time since 2008. They will face a very familiar foe in second-seeded Stanford, who also rode strong bench play and scout defense to a hard-fought win over USC in the quarterfinals.
ASU came into the tournament four losses in its last six games, the only two wins over a struggling Arizona team. The four losses had come against USC, UCLA, Oregon and an Oregon State team that it had just played five days ago in Corvallis, falling 64-60.
The payback was not only sweet, but meaningful, as ASU came up with a great late-season win over a ranked team to strengthen its position in the NCAA Tournament brackets.
“We are in a good place right now,” said ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne. “We have been trying to fail forward, if you will. Learning something from our losses. We came in here with the upmost confidence.”
The Sun Devils out-rebounded Oregon State 39-30, and watched the Beavers grab momentum when Katie McWilliams hit a 3-pointer to close the 3rd quarter. But ASU, who didn’t score in the fourth quarter until there was 3:30 to go, erased a six-point Oregon State by going on a 13-1 run down the stretch.
Kianna Ibis, Ryan and Courtney Ekmark combined to score 44 of their teams’ 57 points.
“We’ve had lots of close games and come up short,” Turner Thorne said. “But now that it’s March, we are looking to play our best and dig deep. I’m really proud of this team.”
Oregon State makes its earliest exit from the tournament since a quarterfinal loss to Colorado in 2015. The Beavers had been to the championship game two years in a row and had their sights set on making it three. The Beavers’ NCAA status is not in question, but what may be a bit up in the air now is whether OSU earns a host-seed and the opportunity to play the first two rounds of the tournament in Corvallis.
Rueck said he believes his team deserves a top 16 seed and the ability to host.
Now the fans at KeyArena will see a matchup between the aggressive, young Sun Devils and the poised Cardinal. ASU is 1-4 all time in tournament games against Stanford, the lone win in the inaugural tournament title game back in 2002 in Eugene.
If it’s the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, it must include Stanford.
In 16 of the 17 years that this tournament has been contested, the Cardinal have put themselves in a position to play for a shot at the title.
This time the Cardinal needed strong bench help, some stout defense, a great postseason debut from one of the top freshman in the Pac-12, and oh, a halfcourt heave that was all net and provided them the energy they needed to gut out a tough game against the undermanned Women of Troy.
Di’Jonai Carrington’s 3-pointer from halfcourt at the end of the first quarter blunted some USC momentum and provided a needed shot in the arm. USC shot a season low .268 from the field for the game.
“Yeah, I think it just brought a lot of energy, everyone was excited. It's always nice to get the last shot. And when it's something that's kind of not likely to go in, it's even more exciting,” Carrington said. “So I think it was awesome just to see how pumped our team was, and we carried it through into the huddle and through the rest of the game.”
Cardinal freshman guard Kiana Williams finished with a team-high 18 points on a night when leading scorer Brittany McPhee struggled, finishing with seven points, her second-lowest scoring output of the season.
Not a bad start for Williams, in her postseason debut.
“I wouldn't say I was nervous,” Williams said. “I was more excited than nervous. Yeah, it's tournament time, so there is a little pressure, win or go home.”
VanDerveer said her team, which split the season series against Arizona State, will be prepared.
“They are aggressive, but we’ve dealt with aggressive,” VanDerveer said. “We need to take care of the ball. We were disappointed by the loss at ASU, so we are excited for the chance to play them again.”
Turner Thorne called it a “grudge” match.
“There are no easy games in March," Turner Thorne said. “We won at our place and they won at their place and I think we are excited about that.”
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.