2019 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament: ASU wins first round game over Colorado behind Courtney Ekmark's big second half
By W.G. Ramirez
LAS VEGAS -- If Courtney Ekmark had her way, she'd take all the basketball you can throw her way.
Which is why the All-Pac-12 honorable mention sharpshooter didn't mind the fact she and her Arizona State teammates had a play-in game on Thursday in the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
It's also why she probably didn't mind hoisting the Sun Devils on her shoulders en route to an 18-point performance to lead 20th-ranked Arizona State to a 66-49 victory over Colorado.
The fifth-seeded Sun Devils (20-9) held off Colorado's third-quarter rally to pull away for the win and advance into Friday's second round against No. 4 seed UCLA (19-11).
"I think it was really good to have the game today, the first game, because it's kind of like we had some pregame jitters," Ekmark said. "We did start off strong, but did let them back in it and let them get on a run. In the future, we're going to make sure we really put teams away."
With the win, Arizona State reached the 20-win plateau for the sixth straight season -- a new school record.
Ekmark, who has drained three or more 3-pointers 10 times this season, was 6-for-15 from the floor, with all six field goals falling from 3-point range. Ekmark also grabbed seven rebounds for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State got 13 points and five assists from Robbi Ryan, while Kiara Russell contributed with seven points and Char Johnson-Chapman grabbed nine rebounds to go along with her five points.
The Sun Devils survived a scare when first-team All-Pac-12 forward Kianna Ibis banged her knee and was limited to the bench for much of the second half.
ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said Ibis was cleared to go back in, but she didn't want to force her star player back if the Sun Devils could regain control of the game after the Buffaloes erased an 18-point deficit and pulled within three at the end of three quarters.
"This is a veteran team, and I think one of the knocks on us a little bit at times is we'll kind of [say] 'We got this and we'll take our foot off the gas," Turner Thorne said. "And they took their foot off the gas. And you can't do that in March. You can't do that in our conference. We already kind of know that. It was a great teachable moment and reminder to us."
The Sun Devils responded in the fourth quarter by outscoring Colorado 23-9 to seal the win.
"The fourth quarter I think we saw sort of a reversal on both ends of the floor," Colorado coach JR Payne said. "We gave up a handful of threes. In the fourth quarter, these guys were playing a lot of minutes, and I think fatigue set in a little bit. But we had a hard time getting stops in the fourth, and then that transferred into we weren't able to go downhill and transition as effectively in the fourth as we did in the third, simply because we weren't getting stops. So it sort of snowballed the wrong way for both offense and defense."
The Sun Devils completed a season sweep of No. 12 seed Colorado (12-18), after winning both regular season games. ASU has now won 13 of the last 15 meetings, including 11 straight.
Arizona State, which opened the game on a 6-0 run, used its league-leading stringent defense to limit CU to just seven points on 20 percent shooting in the first quarter. The Sun Devils, who held the opposition to 12 of fewer points in a quarter 35 times in the regular season, stymied the Buffaloes to 26.9 percent shooting in the first half and headed into the locker room with a 29-17 lead at halftime.
W.G. Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez