(Photo Credit: Steve Rodriguez/Sun Devil Athletics)
For the first time since December, the Arizona State Sun Devils (22-8, 11-7) will take the court as an unranked team when they play USC (19-12, 11-7) in a Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal in Seattle.
ASU is fresh off a disappointing road trip to the Oregon schools, in which they lost a close one to Oregon before getting thoroughly dominated by Oregon State.
With that loss to the Beavers, OSU moved ahead of the Sun Devils in the standings and snagged the third seed in the tournament. Now, as the fourth seed, if ASU is fortunate to beat USC on Friday, they would likely have to face Stanford in the semifinals.
These two teams have met just once this season, on January 10 in Tempe, a 94-86 overtime victory for the Sun Devils. Senior guards Deja Mann and Adrianne Thomas led ASU with 39 combined points in that one, and a similar output will be needed Friday if they are to pull out the victory.
While Arizona State is squarely in the field, although a couple wins would surely help for seeding purposes, USC is fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. The Women of Troy held on to beat Arizona, 59-54, on Thursday night, and to truly feel comfortable about their postseason chances, a win against the Sun Devils is crucial.
USC will need more from senior forward Cassie Harberts then they got Thursday against the Wildcats in order to beat the Sun Devils. Harberts tallied just six points on 3-of-9 shooting, well off her nearly 18 points per game mark in Pac-12 play.
Meanwhile, for Arizona State, where has the offense gone? The team shot just 26 percent from the field in a 66-43 loss to the Beavers last Sunday. A repeat performance Friday could send the Sun Devils packing.
The pick: Arizona State 67-61
USC needs this win a lot more than Arizona State does for NCAA Tournament bubble purposes, but that doesn’t mean this game lacks importance for the Sun Devils. They have struggled down the stretch, especially away from Wells Fargo Arena. A win here would help their confidence, and their NCAA Tournament seed, heading into a probable Saturday showdown against Stanford. In the end, with motivation not lacking for either team, talent wins out, and ASU survives a close one.