UConn and Arizona State have not played since Dec. 21, 2004. But it was that game that proved to be a springboard for the Sun Devils and coach Charli Turner Thorne.
Emily Westerberg had 18 points and Arizona State outscored the Huskies 31-19 in the second half in a 61-50 victory that day before 8,927 at Wells Fargo Arena. UConn shot 30 percent (9-of-30) in the second half and committed 24 turnovers overall.
Ashley Battle had 21 points and seven turnovers for the Huskies. Ann Strother had two points on 1-of-7 shooting.
It’s a victory that Turner Thorne said still remains a topic of conversation to this day.
“It was a huge signature win for our program,’’ Turner Thorne said. “At the time they were a little bit down. It was a tremendous game at home. We had a huge crowd. Actually, I can tell you that because there’s a huge, probably the most prestigious high school tournament in the country is held in late December. And that was going on. A lot of those players from the teams were at that game. I still hear about it. `Oh, I remember when you beat UConn.’ And, obviously, that a tribute to UConn and being the perennial powerhouse that they are. But it helped our program and people are still talking about it. So I don’t think it’s good or bad. Here we are we’re playing them again so it’s another opportunity to maybe solidify who we are as a program.’’
Arizona State is making its second appearance in the Elite Eight in three seasons. It is a combined 128-41 (.757) since the 2004-05 season.
“I’m not surprised at all surprised that they are where they are,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “If they had any luck this year and didn’t lose their starting point guard (Dymond Simon to a knee injury), we wouldn’t be playing right now. They’d be a higher seeded. Maybe we would be playing them. Maybe they would be the No. 2 seed. But I’m not surprised that people approach (Turner Thorne) every year about leaving Arizona State for other coaching jobs. I just think she’s one of the best that we have out there.’’
Here are a couple of quickies from Turner Thorne during her press conference today.
On defending Maya Moore: “Try to limit her easy looks, her offensive boards, her transition, shots in the paint. Try to contest every shot you can. Make her work for the ball. Maybe get her in a little bit of foul trouble if you’re lucky.’’
On what it will take to beat UConn: “Obviously, probably the No. 1 answer is rebounding. You’ve got to limit them to one shot and not allow them to … We need to control the boards. And, second, would be transition defense. Absolutely, just slow them down and not give them the 3s and the layups. And, again, the offensive rebounding and transition. And then on our end we’ve got to score. They’re a great defensive team. We’ve got to take care of the ball. We’ve got to make great decisions. We’ve got to go hard, screen. So we’ve really got to work hard and work together to score the basketball.’’
Is the pressure on UConn tomorrow night: “I definitely think the pressure’s on them, and it’s huge. It just seems like nothing short of a national championship is going to satisfy them or anybody else in UConn Nation. So we’re good with that. Geno’s a great coach. He’s got that scout team beating the crud out of that team every day. So they probably have lost, but just not in an official game. They probably are working hard and getting better. I think diffusing pressure … Geno and that program know all about that. And I think that’s going to be a challenge for them. I think that they’re used to it. Whether they 36-0 or 34-2, obviously, it their expectation every year to win the national championship. So they’ll be ready to play.’’
Ball State coach Kelly Packard was the recipient of the Maggie Dixon award, which honors the top rookie head coach in the nation. A source with knowledge of the voting said that Tonya Cardoza was second.
With no lunch being served at Sovereign Bank Arena I need to give a shout-out to West Hartford native Amy Shapiro, the cousin of Big East director of communications Rachel Margolis. Amy, who now lives in Lawrenceville, N.J., made a fabulous batch of chocolate cookies that made their way around the media room today. Free food is always a welcome site when it comes to sports writers, and when it tastes good too it’s an absolute blessing. We all thank you.