Absence of key contributors, inactivity catches up to @SunDevilWBB in loss to Utah
TEMPE, Ariz. – The loss of three significant contributors to COVID-19 protocols and a hot shooting Utah squad proved to be too much for the Sun Devil women's basketball team to overcome on Sunday in a 65-51 setback to the Utes.
For the second straight game, the Sun Devils were without starting junior guard Iris Mbulito and freshmen posts Katelyn Levings (started first 10 games) and Maggie Besselink (started ASU's two most recent games before Friday) – due to COVID-19 protocols. Freshman center Imogen Greenslade, who on Friday became the fourth Sun Devil freshman to start this season, was once again in the starting lineup. It was the second game the Sun Devils were utilizing their fifth different starting five of the season.
Jaddan Simmons (13 points) and Eboni Walker (10 points) both scored in double figures for the Sun Devils, who were playing in just their fourth game in the last 37 days. Sophomore Sydnei Caldwell (seven points) and freshman Sydney Erikstrup (six points) combined for 13 of ASU's 16 bench points.
Walker and Greenslade tied for the team lead in rebounds with six boards apiece while senior Bre'yanna Sanders led the team with four assists.
Following the game, ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne explained how much the absence of the aforementioned trio and the inactivity during the team's COVID-19 hiatus affected her team.
"This is a tough weekend, to play shorthanded. We're not a team that plays six or seven, we're not in that kind of shape because everybody on our team had to sit for about a week and a half due to contact tracing. That showed up today," Turner Thorne explained. "I think we really stuck through it together and found a way to win on Friday but with the short handedness I thought that showed up [today].
"Credit Utah, they're a very hungry team, much better than their record and we knew that. They kept punching us, they were the more aggressive team, and the more aggressive team is going to win 10 times out of 10… We put in a new defense this weekend because we couldn't match up and were really shorthanded. It worked well because we surprised Colorado, but Utah shoots it a lot better and we didn't surprise them with it and it didn't work as well."
For the Sun Devils (8-4, 4-4 Pac-12), Murphy's law was in full effect for the first three quarters on Sunday as they made only 21 percent of their shots (both from inside and outside the arc) and had accumulated only 28 points after 30 minutes.
During the same span, the Utes (4-9, 3-9 Pac-12) connected on 51 percent of their shots, including 44 percent from long distance where they scored 21 of their points in the first three frames to take a 49-28 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Sun Devils were slow getting out of the gate as the Utes jumped out to a 10-2 lead five minutes into the game. ASU would get within six after a 3-pointer by Gabriela Bosquez cut Utah's lead to 13-7 with three minutes remaining in the frame. Two free throws by Utah accounted for the only scoring the rest of the quarter and the Utes led 15-7 after 10 minutes.
Utah's scoring run carried over into the second period as the Utes scored the first six points to go up 21-7. Four free throws by Walker and a 3-pointer by Simmons got ASU back within single digits, 21-14, midway through the second quarter. The Utes would counter with an 11-5 spurt to take a 32-19 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter started in similar fashion to the first as the Utes scored 10 of the first 12 points to go up 42-21. Utah would go on to outscore the Sun Devils 17-9 to push its lead to 21, entering the final quarter.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds facing them, the Sun Devils came through with a spirited effort over the final 10 minutes, knocking down 53 percent of their shots. Five different Sun Devils scored with Walker (six points), junior Jamie Loera (five points) and Simmons (four points), combining for 15 of ASU's 23 points.
Taya Hanson's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 13, 60-47 with 3:46 remaining. Although ASU held Utah without a field goal for the last 3:48 of the game, they were not able to get any closer than 11 points after Loera's bucket with 1:38 remaining.
"I thought they fought hard in the second half," Turner Thorne said. "We didn't have enough bodies to play the way we wanted to play. We're excited to have three of our top players back next week. A lot of great lessons for everyone on our team with only one senior out there, we have a lot of young players that are starting. I know this team and they have a lot of character and a lot of drive to be good so they will learn from this loss."
Up next for the Sun Devils is a road trip – their first in more than a month – to Los Angeles for games at No. 6 UCLA on Friday (6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT/Pac-12 Network, Arizona, Los Angeles/KDUS AM 1060) and at USC on Sunday (1 p.m. PT/2 p.m. MT/USC Live Stream/KDUS AM 1060).