@SunDevilWBB travels north for games at Utah, Colorado
WHAT: Sun Devil WBB (5-2, 1-2 Pac-12) at Utah (2-2, 1-2 Pac-12)
WHEN: Friday at 3 p.m. MST
WHERE: Jon M. Huntsman Center • Salt Lake City
TELEVISION: Pac-12 Arizona/Mountain
RADIO: KAZG 1440 AM
LIVE STATS: Click here
The Arizona State women's basketball team plays it final two games of the calendar year 2020 this weekend when it travels north to face Pac-12 foes Utah (Friday at 3 p.m. MST) and Colorado (Sunday at 2 p.m. MST).
The Sun Devils (5-2, 1-2 Pac-12) are resuming league play after closing out the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 64-55 win over San Diego on Sunday. Freshman Jaddan Simmons (16 points), sophomore Eboni Walker (career-high 14 points), junior Taya Hanson (13 points) and sophomore Sydnei Caldwell (career-high 12 points) all scored in double figures to help the Sun Devils complete non-conference play unbeaten (4-0). The young Sun Devils were able to rebound after consecutive losses to Top-10 opponents: 63-59 to then-No. 9 UCLA on Dec. 6 and 65-37 at No. 6 Arizona on Dec. 10.
The loss to UCLA denied the Sun Devils their first 5-0 start since 2002-03. ASU rallied from 17 points down to tie and eventually take the lead, but was unable to come away with the upset as the Bruins hit a pair of critical 3-pointers and two free throws down the stretch to escape Tempe with the win. Walker led ASU with 12 points while Simmons (10 points) and fellow freshmen Katelyn Levings (nine points) and Maggie Besselink (eight points) combined for 27 points. The game against the Bruins was Besselink's Sun Devil debut after missing ASU's first four games recovering from a preseason injury.
A 27-percent shooting effort and 23 turnovers proved to be too much for the Sun Devils to overcome at Arizona. Hanson tied her career high with 14 points to lead the Sun Devils. ASU found itself unable to put together any substantial scoring runs once the Wildcats went up by double digits in the second quarter. The Sun Devils played most of their game vs. UCLA and their last two games without starting guard Iris Mbulito, who left the game in the first half of the UCLA contest due to injury. Mbulito's injury was even more magnified as one week earlier head coach Charli Turner Thorne announced that junior post Jayde Van Hyfte, who started every game last season, would miss the remainder of the 2020-21 season due to injury.
The Sun Devils started off the 2020-21 campaign with four-straight wins, defeating Stephen F. Austin 56-47, VCU 49-40 and Saint Mary's 62-53 as part of the Global Sports & Events Tip-Off hosted by ASU. In its Pac-12 Conference opener against USC (Dec. 4), ASU led by as many as 15 and then had to hold off a furious rally that allowed USC to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. Simmons scored 14 of her game-high 20 points in the second half, while Hanson, Walker and Levings added nine points apiece in ASU's 63-58 win.
ASU's abbreviated non-conference schedule – four games – and expanded Pac-12 schedule – for the first time since the Pac-12 expanded to 12 teams in 2011-12, teams will play each other twice – comes amid a global pandemic that forced the cancellation of the 2020 postseason last March.
After taking a brief break for the holidays, the Sun Devils will return to action on New Year's Day when they host Cal.
Friday's game at Utah can be seen on Pac-12 Arizona/Mountain (Krista Blunk, Amanda Smith). It can also be heard on KAZG 1440 AM. Coverage will start at 2:30 p.m. Veteran broadcaster and the state of Arizona's 2010 & 2019 Broadcaster of the Year Jeff Munn is in his 17th season as the voice of ASU women's basketball. He will be joined by former Sun Devil head coach Maura McHugh.
SERIES NOTES VERSUS UTAH
ASU has won 10 of the last 12 meetings. The last five contests between the two squads have been decided by four points less, including four games decided two points. Despite tying a season-high with 10 triples, ASU was upset by Utah 75-71 last February in the only meeting of the 2019-20 season. Former Sun Devil Reili Richardson knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers – one triple shy of tying the school record – and scored 22 points. Walker tied a (then) career-high with 13 points... In 2018-19, the Sun Devils swept the season series with a pair of dramatic come-from-behind wins, including the biggest comeback in school history when they scored 20-straight points to end the game and erase an 18-point deficit. ASU's eight-game winning streak over Utah was snapped after the Utes edged ASU 58-56 on Jan. 19, 2018 in Tempe. ASU won the front end of the 2017-18 series 83-81 in Salt Lake City (Dec. 31, 2017). Former Sun Devil Kianna Ibis had one of the best offensive days turned in by a Sun Devil in recent memory as she scored a career-high 30 points. Ibis became the first Sun Devils to score 30 or more points since Kylan Loney accomplished the feat vs. Arizona on January 31, 2004.
NO I IN THIS TEAM
• In ASU's first seven games, five different players have led or tied for the team lead in scoring: Eboni Walker (3x), Taya Hanson (3x), Jaddan Simons (2x), Bre'yanna Sanders (1x), Sydnei Caldwell (1x). In ASU's win over USC (Dec. 4), Simmons became the first ASU freshman to score 20 or more points since Dymond Simon scored 24 in a win over Washington State on Jan. 4, 2007.
RANKINGS OF NOTE
• As of Dec. 15, ASU is 26th in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (54.4 ppg). ASU is also ranked in the top third of the Pac-12 in offensive rebounds per game (fourth/14.9 rpg). Individually within the conference, Walker is seventh in the Pac-12 in FT percentage (76.9), eighth in rebounding (7.4 rpg) and 10th in offensive rebounds (2.7 rpg); Simmons is tied for ninth in FT percentage (75.0).
CAST OF CONTRIBUTORS APLENTY
• Junior guard Taya Hanson (11.3 ppg) currently leads the Sun Devils in scoring. Hanson has already matched her career high in scoring (14 points) twice this season: vs. SFA (Nov. 25) and at Arizona (Dec. 10). Hanson also leads the team in 3-pointers (11) and is tied for second in rebounding (4.4 rpg).
• Walker is second on the team in scoring (10.4 ppg) and leads the team in field goal percentage (53.2), rebounds (7.4 rpg) and steals (1.6 spg). Walker averaged a double-double (12.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg) in ASU's first two contests vs. Stephen F. Austin and VCU. She scored a career-high 14 points in ASU's win over San Diego (Dec. 13) and has pulled down nine or more rebounds 4 times this season.
• Freshmen Jaddan Simmons and Katelyn Levings have started every game. Simmons became the first Sun Devil point guard to start a season opener as a freshman since 2016. ASU's leader in minutes per game (29.3), Simmons has had only six turnovers this season which is equal to one turnover every 34.2 minutes. In the first Pac-12 series of her career (vs. USC, vs. No. 9 UCLA), Simmons led ASU in scoring (15.0 ppg) and knocked down 87 percent of her free throws (86.7). She led ASU in scoring again with 16 points in its win over San Diego (Dec. 13). Levings is averaging 6.3 ppg (fourth on the team) and 4.4 rpg (tied for second on the team) while logging 22.9 minutes per game.
• Senior Bre'yanna Sanders had a recent three-game stretch – Saint Mary's, USC, UCLA – in which she averaged 6.7 ppg and 4.0 rpg, while knocking down 78 percent of her shots. Sanders had a career-high nine points vs. Saint Mary's (Nov. 30). She followed that with a pair of 3-pointers and a career-high eight rebounds while playing a career-high 28 minutes in ASU's win over USC (Dec. 4). Sanders is currently second on the team in FG percentage (50.0).
• Sydnei Caldwell has been ASU's top performer off the bench. The sophomore guard leads ASU's reserves in scoring (6.0 ppg) & steals (1.4 spg/tied for second on the team). Caldwell scored a career-high 12 points in ASU's win over USD (Dec. 13).
FINDING A WAY TO GET IT DONE
The Sun Devils had to show their toughness in the second half in four of their wins. Against SFA, the LadyJacks got within one point (44-43) with 3:43 remaining. ASU closed the game on a 12-4 run over the final 3:33 of regulation and held SFA to just 2-of-8 shooting down the stretch. Against VCU, the Sun Devils held a 33-32 lead with 8:34 remaining and outscored the Rams 16-8 the remainder of the final quarter. Against USC, the Sun Devils had to stave off a determined USC squad that came back from 15 down to tie the game two minutes into the fourth quarter. After USC pulled within two later in the quarter, ASU kept the Trojans from scoring over the last three-plus minutes of the game and Simmons hit three FTs in the final 12 seconds to seal the win. Most recently vs. San Diego, the Sun Devils came back from a 10-point deficit in the first half and led the Toreros by two late in the third quarter. ASU followed with an 8-0 run and USD never got closer than five points the rest of the game.
ASU's most recent starting lineup – Simmons (seven starts), junior Jamie Loera (two starts), Hanson (19 starts), Levings (seven starts) and Walker (six starts) – have a grand total of 41 starts between them. Outside of Hanson, ASU's other four starters have an average of 5.5 career starts. On Nov. 30, head coach Charli Turner Thorne announced that junior post Jayde Van Hyfte would miss the remainder of the season due to injury. Van Hyfte started all 31 games last season. Starting junior guard Iris Mbulito was lost to injury in the first half of ASU's game vs. UCLA (Dec. 6). She did not play at Arizona (Dec. 10) or vs. San Diego (Dec. 13) and is currently being evaluated on a game-to-game basis.
NOTES VS. NON CONFERENCE OPPONENTS
Including its 4-0 record this season, ASU is now 72-13 (.847) in non-conference play since 2013. The last time the Sun Devils played as few as four non-conference games – as is the case this season – was in 1976 when they also had four competitions out of conference. That season, 13 of their 17 contests were against opponents from the Intermountain Conference.