Playing at home, Arizona State wins without a big star
TEMPE, Ariz. (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 on Saturday.
In the first game of the doubleheader in Tempe, sixth seed Texas A&M (23-9) faces 11th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock (28-4), which prefers to be called UALR these days.
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,'' forward Sophie Bruner said. ''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 Bolden, 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 in double figures, three more average at least seven points a 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 in 830 tries.
''They're playing virtually no true posts,'' Turner Thorne said. ''Everybody is on the perimeter the whole game.''
Here are other things to look for in Saturday's Tempe round.
NO JONES: Texas A&M, winner of the national championship in 2011, is without starting point guard Jordan Jones, who tore her ACL against Missouri on Feb. 25. The Aggies lost that game and two of three since. Curtyce Knox has moved to the point guard position. Knox has averaged 3.6 points per game this season. ''Jordan was more of a facilitating point guard,'' the Aggies' Courtney Walker said. ''So that gives us a different feel as far as running our offense goes. But we still have been working on that since the SEC tournament. We've had a lot of time to continue to get used to Curtyce at point. She's a great point guard.''
BEST FRIENDS: Texas A&M coach Gary Blair and UALR coach Joe Foley are best friends. They met when Blair, then at Arkansas, walked in to watch a practice when Foley coached Arkansas Tech. ''You don't have that very many times in coaching where you're going to play against your best friend in an NCAA Tournament,'' Foley said. Blair calls Foley a perfectionist. ''You're talking about a guy that most people around the country could not even tell you where UALR is or who Joe Foley is,'' Blair said. ''But the coaches that know the game realize he's one of the best.'' Foley is one shy of 700 career wins.
SMALL UALR: UALR doesn't have a player taller than 6-foot-1. Texas A&M starts a 6-foot-5 center, a 6-1 forward and a 6-1 forward-guard. The Aggies can bring 6-7 and 6-2 players off the bench. ''They're going to naturally score some in there,'' Foley said. ''But the good thing is that's not their focal point on offense. Their focal point is guards.''
PAC-12 POWER: Arizona State is one of four Pac-12 teams hosting first-round games. The others are Stanford, Oregon State and California. ''I think it speaks volumes about the strength of the Pac-12 this year,'' Turner Thorne said. ''.. .We've always had a great conference, but I think it really helped with the Pac-12 Network. Having the Pac-12 Network has allowed people across the country to watch us, and so I feel like our teams and our players are getting a lot more respect.''
CURTAIN OF DISTRACTION: The ''Curtain of Distraction,'' made famous at Arizona State 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. Ohio's Kiyanna Black 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.''