(Photo: Drew Martin/WCSN)
The game following a big loss isn’t always a positive one, but Katie Hempen made sure that narrative didn’t unfold on Friday night.
After suffering a demoralizing defeat to Oregon State on Monday, Hempen and No. 8 Arizona State (19-4, 10-1 Pac-12) seemed to find their stride against the No. 14 UCLA Bruins (16-6, 8-3 Pac-12), claiming a close victory 65-61 in Tempe on Friday night.
In an intense environment on blackout night at Wells Fargo Arena, the Sun Devils were able to play a strong game on both ends of the court to get back to their winning ways.
“Well, it’s fun to get back to being us,” said ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne. “I felt like this was a nice response to rebound from Monday night’s game where we really didn’t play at all like we were for the previous two months.”
It was an explosive performance from senior guard Katie Hempen that led the Sun Devils to a much-needed victory over a very talented UCLA team.
Despite going down after taking a big hit to the eye in a collision with UCLA’s Kari Korver in the second quarter, Hempen was able to return in the second half to finish off her impressive 20-point performance.
After shooting 0-for-9 from the floor and scoring just two points against Oregon State last Monday night, Hempen looked much more confident shooting the basketball and lit up the Bruins for 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-7 from behind the three-point line.
“I got in extra in the gym this week with these guys,” Hempen said. “I just got more shots up. That’s all you can do as a shooter, just keep shooting.”
With her four made three pointers, Hempen passed Kylan Loney for the ASU program record for career three-pointers, and although it was an individual record, the senior was quick to give the credit to her team, especially assistant coach Amanda Levens.
“It feels really good because hard work has paid off, and once again I have to give a lot of it to my teammates and my coaches,” Hempen said. “Specifically Amanda Levens, she’s really helped me out through my career here.”
Although Hempen was clearly the star of the night, it was actually an extremely balanced offensive attack from the Sun Devils with three other player scoring in double-digits.
Hempen’s offensive resurgence paired with a strong defensive game from the Sun Devils was the equation for this ASU victory. The Sun Devils held a Bruins team that averages a Pac-12 best 77 points per game to just 61 points.
The only exception was the third quarter in which UCLA’s offensive firepower was evident. Led by sophomore guard Jordin Canada, the Bruins were able to put up 27 points in the quarter to the ASU lead to 51-49 heading into the fourth.
“I keep looking at 27 points in the third quarter and I’m cringing,” Turner Thorne said. “But I mean, I was happy with our defense after the first half.”
ASU didn’t produce as many turnovers as is usually expected for this defensive-minded team, but the Sun Devils were able to grind out a victory nonetheless.
“I think it’s just one of those games where you have to be more connected than you have previously,” said junior forward Sophie Brunner. “They’re gonna be like that now, every game is just gonna be a dog fight like that. You really just have to focus on each other and zone everything else out.”
Player of the Game: Katie Hempen
This game was all about Katie Hempen from start to finish.
Despite struggling offensively over the last few games, Hempen came out from the opening tip with an aggressive mindset. She was confident shooting the basketball and found open shots early and often, resulting in one of her best games of the season.
The senior scored a game-high 20 points on 8-for-14 from the floor including a blistering 4-for-7 from long range. Not only was she efficient, but also she set the Sun Devil program record for most three-pointers made in a career, doing so in just three seasons with the team.
“I’ve worked extremely hard to be where I’m at,” Hempen said of breaking the ASU three-point record. “My coaches just always wanted me to be the best I can be and they’ve just really done that this past year.”
Hempen’s lack of production against Oregon State was a big part of why the Sun Devils couldn’t get anything going, but the story was the exact opposite tonight as Hempen showed why opposing teams still consistently game plan around her.
“I would’ve never imagined myself in this position today,” Hempen said.
Stat of the Night: 61 points
UCLA is the top scoring offense in the Pac-12 with just over 77 points per game so far this season, but ASU’s defense was able to hold the Bruins to just 61 points. The Sun Devils are known for being a defensive minded team, but holding a team as offensively talented as UCLA to 16 points under their season average is worth noting. Leading scorers Canada, senior guard Nirra Fields and senior forward Monique Billings were all near their season averages, but the Sun Devils were able to shut down just about everyone else in a strong defensive performance.
No. 8 ASU will have a day off before taking on USC on Sunday afternoon at 2pm. The game will be at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.