(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
Rival Arizona gave No. 8 Arizona State everything they could handle for 40 hard-fought minutes.
The Wildcats outrebounded the Sun Devils, were more efficient from the floor and had more points in the paint.
Unfortunately, not even all of that could save them from that tenacious ASU defense and senior guard Elisha Davis.
In the first leg of the women’s basketball edition of the Territorial Cup, No. 8 Arizona State (16-3, 7-0 Pac-12) smothered Arizona (11-8, 2-5 Pac-12) en route to a 61-49 victory in front of an electrified crown in Tempe on Friday night.
“It’s rivalry week,” said head coach Charli Turner Thorne. “It’s the Territorial Cup, so it’s always a battle.”
The game opened with a strong defensive possession form Arizona, forcing ASU to heave up a desperation three-pointer as the shot clock went off, but Davis was able to convert.
Although the Sun Devils were able to hit that shot, it set the tone for what would be a pretty strong defensive effort from the Wildcats, who ran a 2-3 zone for the entirety of the game.
The zone made it more difficult than usual for ASU to feed the ball inside to its talented post players, causing them to settle for long-range jump shots and fall into a bit of a shooting slump.
Due to the cold shooting and questionable officiating, the Sun Devils headed into the halftime break all tied with Arizona at 26 a piece, but dominated the second half to the tune of 14 Wildcat turnovers.
The defensive charge was led by Davis, who was all over the court picking up five steals and helping to create even more chaos, and junior forward Sophie Brunner, who led all players with seven steals.
“We certainly didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” Turner Thorne said. “But I mean gosh, Lili Davis and Sophie Brunner especially just really stepped up.”
Despite having what was an incredibly efficient game on offense and notching five steals, Davis wasn’t satisfied with her defensive performance on Arizona guard Malena Washington.
“I played horrible defense,” Davis said. “I mean yay, I scored, but when you play another person you at least want to hold them to lower than what you scored or you don’t want to allow them to do what they want. So I would say that was one of the worst defensive games I’ve had in a long time.”
Turner Thorne spoke to Davis’ competitive nature and desire to improve in the post-game press conference.
“Isn’t that awesome,” Turner Thorne said. “She just kicked butt for us and yet…that’s what she’s looking at. That just tells you that she’s got a championship mindset and is a great leader.”
Brunner, one of the stars of this ASU team, had a monster second half, scoring 10 points and pulling down three rebounds after the break to help ASU pull away.
The Sun Devils as a unit seemed to function much better in the second half, working the ball inside far more often than the first half and only turning the ball over six times.
It’s now 13 consecutive wins for the Sun Devils, as well as moving to 7-0 in the Pac-12, tied for their best start in conference play in program history. The 27 forced turnovers were also the most ASU has forced in a game this season.
Player of the Game: Elisha Davis
In my eyes, this was Elisha Davis’ best overall performance of her career, even if she wasn’t quite as happy with it. She was efficient on offense at 5-for-7 from the floor including 3-for-5 from deep, grabbed three rebounds, dished out five assists, and stole the ball five times in a tremendous stat sheet-stuffing effort. Davis was the catalyst for the Sun Devils on both ends of the floor and could not have come in more clutch on the offensive end in a rivalry game like this one.
Stat of the Night: 27 Turnovers
The relentless ASU defense was able to force 27 Arizona turnovers, the most they’ve been able to force all season long. It also marked the 10th time this season that the Sun Devils forced their opponent to commit 20 or more turnovers in a game. ASU was able to score 28 points off of the turnovers while holding UA to just 9, playing a big role in the Sun Devils’ big second half.
Next, the Sun Devils will travel to Tucson on Sunday to play this same Arizona team at 5pm.