(AP) – Coach Charli Turner Thorne has the Arizona State women back among the best in the West.
The Sun Devils (27-5), seeded third in the Greensboro region, will be playing an NCAA Tournament game at home for the first time in a decade when they face No. 14 Ohio (27-4) in a first-round game Saturday.
Arizona State is a team without a star player.
”Our main ingredient of success is how well we play together and our chemistry and how hard we work,” said sophomore forward Sophie Brunner, who leads the Sun Devils with 11.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
”If no one ever watched us play, I would just say we’re a hard-working team and that we make other people work harder for us, so if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to have to work harder than us.”
Ohio coach Bob Boldon, who in his second season has the Bobcats in the tournament for the first time in 20 years, must deal with an Arizona State team that thrives on pressure defense and can go 10 deep. Three Sun Devils average double figures in scoring, and three more score at least 7.1 per game.
”Well, they present all kinds of challenges offensively and defensively,” he said. ”Their balanced scoring is right at the top of that list of challenges. You’ve got to guard everybody every possession.”
Ohio, much smaller than Arizona State, thrives on 3-point shooting. The Bobcats have made 292 3s, good for fifth in the nation, and they enter with 21 wins in 23 games since suffering back-to-back losses in December.
”They’re playing virtually no true posts,” Turner Thorne said. ”Everybody is on the perimeter the whole game.”
Ohio went just 9-21 last season, but Boldon has revived a program that won only one Mid-American Conference game two years ago. Junior guard Kiyanna Black, who made five 3-pointers in the second half and scored 25 in the MAC tournament title game, said Boldon came in with enormous goals.
”The first words out of his mouth were `MAC championship,”’ she said. ”I’m like, `We gotta win a few games first.”’
Arizona State is one of four Pac-12 teams hosting first-round games, and the ”Curtain of Distraction,” made famous at men’s games, will be in full force against Ohio.
The curtain is set up behind the visiting team’s end of the court. When free throws are attempted, the curtain is opened to display bizarre characters trying to distract the shooter. They’ve used it at two women’s games this season.
Black, who leads Ohio with 16.1 points per game and shoots 79.5 percent from the line, said she’s seen the Curtain of Distraction on SportsCenter.
”I think I’ll just stick to my principles shooting free throws,” she said, ”just do what I do.”
The winner of this game will face No. 6 seed Texas A&M or 11th-seeded UALR on Monday.