ASU women ready for unfazed Arkansas-Little Rock
TEMPE, Ariz. — Waiting for their turn in the NCAA Tournament, Arizona State’s players sat in the stands and watched Arkansas-Little Rock get knocked around by Texas A&M.
The bigger Aggies pushed the Trojans, bumped them, fouled them when they tried to get off shots.
What caught the Sun Devils’ attention was the reaction of UALR’s players: Nothing.
"You can tell that nothing really bothers them," Arizona State forward Sophie Brunner said. "They just make things work."
Arizona State (28-5), the No. 3 seed in the Greensboro Region, had it relatively easy in its first home NCAA Tournament game in a decade, rolling over Ohio 74-55 on Saturday.
The Sun Devils had a rough offensive stretch in the second half, but were in complete control after a big first-half run helped them build a 29-point lead.
The 11th-seeded Trojans figure to put up more of a fight Monday night in the second round.
UALR (29-4) spent the season scrapping against opponents who often were much taller and heavier, using its four-guard lineup and motion offense to wear teams down.
The Trojans faced their biggest test to date in the NCAA Tournament opener against Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggies had a decided size advantage, starting with 6-foot-5 center Khaalia Hillsman, yet the Trojans were in control most of the way while pulling off the 69-60 upset.
UALR did it behind a motion offense that ran circles around the bigger Aggies and big games from Taylor Gault and Kiera Clark, who combined for 47 points.
"They just have some really good payers that at any time can just take you one-on-one and create their own shot and do some really nice things with the basketball," Arizona State coach Charlie Turner Thorne said.
UALR will face a few problems of its own against equally scrappy Arizona State.
The Sun Devils have a small lineup by Pac-12 standards, so they try to outwork teams at both ends of the floor.
It certainly worked in the NCAA Tournament opener against Ohio.
Arizona State used its pressure defense to harass the Bobcats into 18 turnovers and held one of the nation’s most proficient 3-point shooting teams to 4-of-16 shooting from behind the arc.
The Sun Devils like to spread it around offensively and on Saturday it was Katie Hempen’s turn. She made 5 of 9 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 23 points, leading an offense that shot 55 percent and made 8 of 16 from beyond the arc.
But while Arizona State plays a similar style as UALR, the Sun Devils are much bigger than the Trojans inside, which could cause some matchup problems on Monday.
"That’s going to be the hard thing, overcoming the size like we did yesterday," UALR coach Joe Foley said. "(Hempen) is one of the best shooters I’ve seen, so when they can spread it out, extend the defense as far as she can, that opens up the middle."
A few more things to look for when the Sun Devils and Trojans meet for a spot in the Sweet 16:
WHERE TO START?: Arizona State’s depth and unselfishness is part of what makes the Sun Devils so tough to stop on offense. Brunner and Hempen are the top two scorers at 11.7 and 11.5 points, but the Sun Devils spread it around. Arizona State has had six players lead the team in scoring this season and has not had the same top scorer in more than two games straight.
CLARK’S BREAKOUT: Clark went through a bit of a midseason slump, but has come alive just in time for the Trojans. The 5-foot-11 senior forward had 13 points in UALR’s win over Arkansas State in the Sun Belt tournament title game and broke out in the NCAA Tournament opener, scoring 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds.
STOPPING GAULT: The key to slowing UALR’s offense starts with Gault. The Trojans’ senior guard has been the focal point for opposing defenses, but she continually finds ways to score or set up teammates. Gault led UALR with 15.5 points per game during the regular season and had 25 points against Texas A&M, hitting 5 of her 7 attempts from 3-point range. Arizona State will try to counter her production with Promise Amukamara. The senior guard has quick feet and often guards the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer, so it should be a good matchup Monday night.