March 31, 2009

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - When the women's basketball bracket first came out, Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne quickly searched it to find Connecticut, pleased to discover a potential matchup against the nation's best team.

First, the Sun Devils had to figure out how to win without leading scorer Dymond Simon, who was lost for the season in early March because of a knee injury.

Now, Arizona State's a victory away from the school's first Final Four. Beat UConn in the Trenton Regional final Tuesday night and history is theirs.

"They're the best team who you have to go through. If I could change my mind on that, I'd rather play them in St. Louis," Turner Thorne said with a smile. "It's an incredible opportunity to play the team to beat. 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."

Arizona State and Purdue are the first No. 6 seeds to make it to the regional finals since Stanford made it in 2004.

It would have been easy for Arizona State to feel as if the season were over when Simon went down with an ACL injury. She hurt the same knee as a freshman and missed that team's run to the regional final that ended with a loss to Rutgers.

The Sun Devils had won a school-record 15 consecutive games before Simon got hurt playing Stanford with the Pac-10 title on the line.

"I took about five seconds to say this stinks, but then you got to move on," Turner Thorne said. "We were that much better with her."

After losing in their first game of the Pac-10 tournament to Southern Cal, the Sun Devils rebounded.

"We can be great without her. I don't know that I knew that when she went down. We're like okay, let's see what we can do," Turner Thorne said. "I believe in my players. I know what they can do. I'm really proud of how much they pulled together as a team."

In the NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils beat host Georgia in the first round, then upset No. 3 seed Florida State before knocking off second-seeded Texas A&M on Sunday.

"It made us better and stronger as a team. We haven't had an easy game. We're used to having that easy 20-point win in the first round," Turner Thorne said. "I think it's been a godsend. Nothing's been easy. We've had to work for everything. It's made us tougher and better."

They must be if they expect to beat UConn.

The Huskies have run through their opponents this season, winning by an average of 30 points. They blew past Vermont and Florida in the opening two rounds before briefly stumbling against California in the regional semifinals.

UConn found itself trailing by eight points late in the first half before reeling off a 40-12 run over the next 20 minutes to put the game away.

"How hard they play and the intensity level that they bring is going to be a great challenge for our guys tomorrow," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "We're anxious for the test. I think it's going to be a great game. The kind of game you're supposed to have leading to the Final Four. You have to be tested, and tomorrow will be one."