March 19, 2009

 

Arizona State was cruising through its Pac-10 schedule before a loss in its regular-season finale and then a quick exit in the conference tournament.

It's hoping for a much longer stay in the NCAA tournament.

If the sixth-seeded Sun Devils plan on sticking around, though, they'll have to win their first-round game in the Trenton Regional just an hour from 11th-seeded Georgia's campus Saturday afternoon in Duluth.

Arizona State (23-8) lost three consecutive games by a combined eight points from Dec. 28-Jan. 4 - including its first two Pac-10 games - but didn't stay down for long. The No. 19 Sun Devils reeled off 15 straight wins from there by an average of 18.9 points before a loss at No. 2 Stanford to end the regular season.

A loss to USC in the Pac-10 tournament followed, and instead of potentially going into the NCAA tournament as a top-four seed, Arizona State received a six seed.

Awaiting the Sun Devils in the second round is a potential game against ACC heavyweight Florida State, and down the road they could run into undefeated and top-seeded Connecticut. But to even think about that, they'll have to stop perennial power Georgia (18-13), which finished with its worst record in 11 years.

"It's a pretty tough matchup in the first round for a sixth seed," Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "... The bottom line is there are no easy games in the NCAA tournament. This is why we play a tough preseason schedule and we will be ready."

To make matters worse, Arizona State will have to travel nearly 2,000 miles to Duluth to face the Bulldogs. All Georgia has to do is head 51 miles due west.

That's not a bad draw for the Bulldogs, who finished seventh in the SEC and lost five straight in February. Coach Andy Landers is fifth all-time in victories in Division I and his team had made the NCAA tournament 14 straight times heading into this season, yet Georgia was forced to sweat out the selection process Monday night.

"When they called out our name, there was a scream that went up and covered the entire room," Landers said. "You're talking about an excited and happy group of young ladies who I think will come out and do their very best in this game against Arizona State."

Georgia's gone 5-1 over the past five seasons at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, including a 67-50 win over Clemson on Dec. 22 behind 15 points and nine rebounds from sophomore forward Porsha Phillips.

Phillips (10.5 points per game) is part of a balanced Georgia offense that includes Ashley Houts (12.2) and Angel Robinson (11.6), and Robinson has averaged 15.6 points and 11.9 rebounds in her last seven.

She had 29 points and 16 rebounds in a 69-61 loss to then-No. 22 Vanderbilt in the second round of the SEC tournament.

Georgia is only eighth in the SEC in scoring (64.5), and it could have trouble putting up points against the Sun Devils, who only yield an average of 55.4.

Arizona State is led defensively by senior guard Briann January, who is second in the conference with 2.2 steals per game. January, an All-Pac-10 selection, is also second on the Sun Devils in scoring (12.1), just behind junior guard Dymond Simon (13.8).

The winner will face third-seeded Florida State or 14th-seeded North Carolina A&T on Monday.