(Photo: Tyler Rittenhouse/WCSN)
With a renewed sense of urgency during its longest losing streak of the season, No. 22 ASU (14-6, 5-3 Pac-12) knocked off the Colorado Buffaloes 73-59 on Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena.
On Friday, ASU lost a double-digit lead going into the fourth quarter against the Utah Utes en route to a 58-56 Utes upset.
On Sunday, the Sun Devils found themselves in a similar situation with a lead in the second half, but this time ASU shut the door to snap a three-game losing streak.
“The thing that I loved about this game for our team was they had that look in their eyes,” ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We squandered some possessions and didn’t really have a great game, I knew that they were going to take it. I knew that they kind of got their toughness back.”
Although Sunday’s matinee game might not have been the most dominant performance of the year, ASU found a way to win with grit and perseverance.
After the game, Turner Thorne noted that sophomore guard Kiara Russell was ill throughout the weekend, and she needed an IV at halftime of Sunday’s contest. The sophomore from Minnesota finished the game with eight points, three rebounds and an assist in 21 minutes of action.
“She is one of the toughest kids I have ever coached,” Turner Thorne said. “She just kind of watched yesterday (in practice) and kind of had to step out of warm-ups today, but you guys probably didn’t even know. That’s how tough she is.”
Along with Russell in the backcourt, sophomore point guard Reili Richardson is still in the process of healing a sprained ankle that she sustained earlier this week in practice, and sophomore forward Jamie Ruden just returned from a concussion that she suffered against Oregon State earlier this month.
“Hats off to both of my backcourt, my point guards,” Turner Thorne said. “They really toughed it out. We just have to get them good and healthy.”
ASU junior guard Sabrina Haines is already out for the season with a torn ACL, and on Sunday, freshman guard Bre’yanna Sanders hobbled off the court with the help of the ASU training staff after what appeared to be a leg injury.
Turner Thorne noted that Sanders was “okay” and she could have returned to action, but she elected to stray on the safe side.
Regardless of all of the health issues that have plagued the Sun Devils as of late, the team found a way to get the job done on their home floor in a game that ASU controlled.
ASU junior forward Kiana Ibis had 24 points, Ruden notched eight points in just 14 minutes of play and junior guard Robbi Ryan set a new career high in assists with eight on the way to a Sun Devil victory.
“Nobody is 100 percent right now, so you are used to it as a coach,” Turner Thorne said. “You always tell your team it’s not if you have adversity, it’s win. You get them ready to rise to the occasion.”
Among other standouts, junior center Charnea Johnson-Chapman had 12 rebounds, and she was integral to creating extra possessions for an ASU team that out rebounded Colorado 40-25.
“She was extremely important,” Ryan said of Johnson-Chapman. “…We needed to get back to rebounding offensively and defensively because that just fuels everything and gives us more possessions.”
As for Colorado, the Buffaloes kept fighting their way back into the game on the plays of their backcourt. Junior guard Kennedy Leonard had 23 points and freshman guard Peyton Carter came off of the bench and finished the game with eight points to give the Buffaloes a spark.
However, the game came down to a closing stretch in which ASU weathered a Colorado spurt. After cutting a double-digit lead down to six points in the fourth quarter, ASU called a timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, ASU ran a well-executed play against Colorado’s zone defense, and the end result was a layup for Ibis from the low post. ASU proceeded to go on a 6-0 run to end the game spurred by Ibis and redshirt junior forward Courtney Ekmark, and the rest was history.
Ekmark had 16 points on 6-11 shooting, and she was a key factor against a Colorado defense that played a full game of zone defense.
“There was a couple of gaps in their zone and it was vulnerable,” Ryan said. “Kiana and some of my other teammates did a great job moving.”
With Sunday’s win, ASU will now look to get rest and get healthy as yet another tough road test lies ahead with a trip to the Bay Area looming next weekend.
“No team is an easy team,” Ibis said. “Every team in the Pac-12 is going to give their all. The Pac-12 is a great conference, so we just can’t take any reps off of any team that we play against.”
Tipoff between No. 22 ASU and Stanford is set for Friday, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. MST at Maples Pavilion.