(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
With all of focus on the exciting matchup between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos on Super Bowl Sunday, the No. 8 Arizona state Sun Devils had a pretty exciting matchup of their own, defeating the USC Trojans 69-68 on a last second shot from junior forward Sophie Brunner.
The Sun Devils (20-4, 11-1 Pac-12) managed to pull out a tough win at home on Friday night against UCLA, but underdog USC (17-7, 5-6 Pac-12) was not going to let them get away with an easy win.
It was anything but an easy win for the Sun Devils who won in thrilling fashion in a one-point victory. This is their first one-point game since November.
The first quarter was filled with fouls for both teams. ASU and USC visited the charity stripe early and often in the first 10 minutes. The five-minute scoring drought for the Sun Devils had didn’t help them in the first quarter either, allowing the Trojans to outscore them 22-10.
The Sun Devils seemed to find their stride in the second quarter. Senior guards Katie Hempen and Arnecia Hawkins were the sparks the Sun Devils needed, leading their team on an 8-2 run. They also appeared to find their offensive rhythm behind the arc hitting four three-point shots.
The Trojans played extremely physical and didn’t let the Sun Devils regain their lead in the second quarter. It was an all out battle at the end of the second, with a flagrant one foul called on USC allowing Peace Amukamara to convert two free throws, tying the game 34-34 going into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, USC continued their physical play and continued to foul. This proved to be costly for them by the end of the third as they only have seven players and two of them had four fouls, and the remaining had no less than two fouls.
The Sun Devils managed to keep the offensive pressure on and headed to the fourth quarter with a tie game 52-52.
To say it was an exciting fourth quarter would be an understatement. It was an absolute back and forth battle with four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. With 4:37 the Sun Devils were down 64-58, but the Sun Devils refused to throw in the towel.
“We came in knowing it could come down to the last possession,” Hawkins said.
Down by two, a beautiful pass from Brunner to Moos on a backdoor cut allowed the Sun Devils to tie up the game with 14 seconds remaining, but the Trojans were determined to have the last laugh.
Off of the ensuing Trojan inbound, USC’s Temi Fagbenle hit a tough turnaround jumper over Quinn Dornstauder to take the lead with just 3.4 seconds to go for what seemed like the dagger.
ASU called its final timeout to advance the ball and draw up an inbound play. Senior guard Elisha Davis inbounded the ball to Brunner, who immediately took it to the rack.
Brunner was able to absorb the contact from the USC’s smothering defense, converting on the layup and drawing the foul. With the free throw tacked on, ASU took a one-point lead with just 1.8 seconds to play.
In a last second desperation attempt, USC launched the ball down the court and had it knocked out of bounds, allowing them one more inbound play in scoring territory with 0.4 seconds remaining. The Trojans threw a lob to Fagbenle, who was able to corral the ball and send in a shot.
Unfortunately for USC, the buzzer had already sounded.
ASU was able to come away with a one-point victory, avoiding the massive upset and losing their second game in their last three.
“You have to do the little things,” Brunner said. “It’s what’s going to separate you at this time of year.”
Once again it come down to execution and experience for the Sun Devils, a battle-tested team that knows how to win close games.
“I think it mattered a lot,” Brunner said. “Everyone knew what spots they had to be in.”
Player of the Game: Sophie Brunner
While she didn’t have a stellar night according to the stat sheet, she added 12 points and six rebounds in this tight win, but Brunner’s biggest contribution came when her team needed her most. She was able to make a though layup in traffic and get fouled in the act, giving ASU the final go-ahead bucket and a victory. She came up clutch when her team needed her, and was able to carry her team past this tough USC team.
Stat Of The Night: 45 percent
Both USC and ASU shot 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc. These stats illustrate just how close this game was, it came down to one possession, who sored the ball last before the clock expired.
The Sun Devils will embark on a Northern California road trip. They will play Cal on Friday at 8 p.m. on the first leg of their trip in Berkeley.