No. 19 Arizona St. Out-Paces No. 9 Texas A&M, 84-69
March 29, 2009
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -Texas A&M coach Gary Blair is jumping on the Arizona State bandwagon - to some extent.
If the Sun Devils play as well as they did in knocking off the Aggies 84-69 on Sunday in the Trenton regional semifinal, they have a shot to beat top-seeded and undefeated Connecticut and earn a berth in the Final Four.
"They were the better basketball team today," Blair said after Arizona State (26-8) scorched his defensive-minded team for the most points in almost three years. "If they can play at that level, they can give Connecticut a good run, and Connecticut is one of the greatest teams I have ever seen."
Arizona State played a near perfect game in upsetting the second-seeded Aggies (27-8). It shot a season-high 62 percent, got points from nine players, including 22 by Briann January, and did all the little things, winning the hustle plays, making the smart plays and even frustrating its opponents with four or five baskets at the shot clock.
"We're a program with a team that doesn't have a lot of swag but has a quiet confidence," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "We believe in ourselves. We can outwork teams. We're a great basketball team. We choose to do the things we're capable of doing. I felt like at the beginning of the year we can win championships."
The current run by the Sun Devils might seem surprising since they lost leading scorer Dymond Simon to a knee injury earlier this month.
However, January has moved from the shooting guard to the point and everyone has stepped up.
"With us losing Dymond, it's made us come together and be more cohesive on the court," January said.
Arizona State will have to be at its best on Tuesday night against Connecticut (36-0), which rallied from an eight-point first-half deficit to beat California 77-53, advancing to their 14th regional final in 16 years.
Turner Thorne admitted she looked at the bracket after the tournament was announced and wasn't concerned about being in the same regional as the Huskies.
"What I said, it is an incredible opportunity to play the team to beat," she said. "The unbeaten team, the team that everyone's picked to win the national championship. I'm so excited. It's going to take an unbelievable effort to advance."
Danielle Orsillo added 15 points and Lauren Lacey had 14 for the Sun Devils, whose point total came against a team that allowed only 87 points in its two tournament games.
Tanisha Smith had 19 points and Takia Starks added 18 for the Aggies (27-8), who were looking to advance to the regional final for the second straight year. Danielle Gant added 13 points for Texas A&M, which shot 48 percent from the field.
Arizona State lost to Rutgers in 2007 in its only other regional final.
"We're going to come out and play," Orsillo said. "What we've done in the past and they've done in the past isn't going to matter. It's going to be that game on that night and we're not going to look forward or back we'll live in the present."
The Sun Devils never trailed in the second half, although they did not take control until the final three minutes when they used a 7-2 run to push their lead to 10 points.
Texas A&M got as close as a point early in the second half and was still within three when Starks hit two free throws with 7:12 to go to close the gap to 68-65.
After Sybil Dosty missed two free throws for Arizona State, the Aggies had a chance to close the gap, but Starks turned the ball over and January hit a driving layup.
"That was one of the biggest daggers we had right there," Blair said.
Texas A&M would miss two more shots and turn the ball over again, and Kayli Murphy pushed the Sun Devils' lead to 72-65 with a layup.
The Aggies got within five points on two other occasions before Arizona State sealed it.
Arizona State also came into the game with a defensive reputation, allowing an average of 52.5 points in the first two tournament games.
However, both teams showed little defense in the first half and combined to hit 17 of 25 heading into the first television time out.
The Sun Devils led 42-37 at the half, hitting 16 of 24 shots from the field. January led the way with 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting.
A&M stayed close by hitting 16 of 29 shots, or 55.2 percent, but it could not keep pace with the Sun Devils in the second half.
"Our kids are just a little disappointed today because that's not the best that we have," Blair said. "Hopefully that was the best that Arizona State had because I don't think they can play any better than they did. Kids stepped up and that's what this is all about."
The loss was a bitter one for Starks, Gant and center La Toya Micheaux, who reached the tournament all four years, last year losing to eventual champion Tennessee in the regional final.
"This year we fell kind of short of last year," Starks said. "That's OK. They'll be back next year. We had a great run, a great four years. I've loved the atmosphere. Today, we just dropped one."