Simmons Sinks Lumberjacks in Sun Devils’ 69-68 Season-Opening Win
TEMPE, Ariz. – Back and forth they went, the Sun Devils and Lumberjacks trading blows to open both the 2022 women's basketball season and the Natasha Adair regime on Monday night at Desert Financial Arena.
They traded leads more than a dozen times and were tied six times over 40 minutes of back-and-forth ball, until Jaddan Simmons ultimately sealed the game with the 14th and final lead change of the night with just 20.9 seconds remaining.
Trailing 68-67, Simmons stepped to the foul line and sank both free throw shots to cement a 69-68 season-opening win over Northern Arizona. The Sun Devils held the Lumberjacks to zero points in the final three minutes of play, using a quick 5-0 spurt to clinch the one-point victory.
"It's huge," Adair said in her first post-game press conference. "To me, obviously as the coach, but I think it's more for our team. Because, I'm sure there was just so much on the game, just this new team, new era, just all of what was going on kind of just around them. And so I think now they can take a deep breath, and say, 'You know what, we did it, we did it together. And let's go do it again.'''
Simmons, who delivered the dagger, had her fingerprints all over the win, scoring a game-high 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting in a team-high 37 minutes of play.
The Sun Devils entered the fourth quarter trailing 58-55 after the Lumberjacks went on a 10-2 run to close out the third. But the Sun Devils, who once led by 11 points, met the adversity head on. Tyi Skinner, who chipped in with 12 points of her own, delivered a huge three-pointer in the opening acts of the fourth quarter to trim the Lumberjack lead to 61-60.
Both teams swapped leads in the moments after before the Lumberjacks tacked on four quick points to lead 68-64, tied for their largest lead of the night. It was the Sun Devils' ensuing defensive attack, led by Simmons and Meg Newman, that left the Lumberjacks scoreless for the final three minutes of the game.
One successful free-throw shot, a nifty Trayanna Crisp lay-in and Simmons' pair of clutch free throws was just enough for the Sun Devils (1-0) to leave Desert Financial Arena with a season-opening victory.
"They never stopped and they never quit," Adair said of her squad. "And that's what I'm proud of. But we will go back and look at some of those areas and make sure we're better than next time we play."
The Sun Devils hardly looked like with a team with a new coaching staff and a roster almost equal in the number returners and new players as they jumped out to an 11-point lead early in the second quarter. They were firing on all cylinders, having led 23-17 after the opening quarter, and continued to add to their lead.
Skinner drilled her first of two 3-pointers with just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, helping ASU to its largest lead of the night, 33-22. But the Lumberjacks never shied away, trimming the Sun Devil lead to just 40-37 at the half. The Sun Devils shot 16-of-39 (41 percent) in the first half, adding 22 points from the paint.
In a game of runs, both teams did just that in the third quarter. Right out of the half, NAU connected on a three-pointer to knot the game at 40-40, and soon after jumped out to a 41-40 advantage for its first lead since the 6:14 mark in the first quarter when it was 8-6.
The Sun Devils went on a 13-8 run to reclaim the lead, and the Lumberjacks responded with an 8-0 stretch of their own. After three quarters, the game had dwindled to a one-possession Lumberjack lead.
A balanced attack in the fourth – courtesy of clutch plays from Skinner, Newman and Simmons – was too much for the Lumberjacks to handle. The Sun Devils forced 17 total NAU turnovers – six coming in the fourth quarter – to stifle the Lumberjacks in crunch time.
"I mean, we just never panicked," Simmons said. "There were some moments where they were going up, but we just stayed together. We even take deep breaths together on the court when we are in the huddle sometimes. I just think that sticking and knowing that the game is not over and we still have a bunch of time left."
The Sun Devils are back home on Friday, November 11, against Grambling State for a 2:30 p.m. MST tip-off. Along with the team's Salute to Service game honoring those who have served our country, the Grambling State matchup is the debut of the Legacy Series between the Pac-12 and SWAC. The legacy series aims to provide Pac-12 and SWAC student-athletes with educational opportunities focused on social justice and anti-racism to encourage civic engagement and leadership.