The Arizona State women’s basketball team hasn’t really had much of a chance to catch its breath and regroup. It is seemingly tough game after tough game in the toughest conference in the country when it comes to women’s basketball.
So while a bottom tier team was making a stop in at Desert Financial Arena, veteran coach Charli Turner Thorne wasn’t taking anything for granted. No, this one wasn’t easy either and the Sun Devils squeaked out a 62-59 victory over Washington State on Friday night.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak. The Sun Devils (17-8, 7-6) had also lost four of their last five but all of those setbacks came to teams ranked in the top 10 nationally. Welcome to the Pac-12.
“Another barn-burner with Washington State. Give them credit. They have two of the best scorers in the conference and we knew it and we kind of let them get loose a little bit in the second half and they did a great job of hitting shots and made it interesting.”
This one wasn’t secured until the last second ticked off the clock, senior guard Reili Richardson hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left to give her team a three-point lead at 62-59.
Then after a timeout, Washington State’s Borislava Hristova air-balled a desperation 3-pointer from the wing as time expired.
Richardson, who finished with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists, has had a knack for making clutch shots down the stretch. Before the two she hit that iced the game, she connected on two others with 14.8 seconds left that gave the home team a 60-57 advantage.
If the four free throws weren’t enough, she also drained back-to-back 3-pointers from the top of the key, the latter of which gave the Sun Devils a 56-50 lead with 1:56 to play after the Cougars tied it at 50.
“I just like to win. I like to get my team fired up. I want to take every game in the fourth quarter,” Richardson said. “It’s like a switch flips in me, ‘You need to go do the little things, work hard.’ “
Richardson’s contribution was not lost on Turner Thorne who has come to expect such things.
“Yeah, Reili’s a stud,” the coach said. “We definitely count on her and have confidence in her.”
The Sun Devils led Washington State (11-14, 4-9) at the half 29-21 and would extend that lead to 12 early in the third quarter but the Cougars outscored ASU 15-7 in the third and the teams went into the final quarter tied at 38. It was a battle the rest of the way.
ASU shot 45.1 percent (23-for-51) from the field and finished with a 35-31 advantage on the boards but had 15 turnovers. Richardson, who is also six assists away from the school’s career record, was followed in the scoring column by Ja’Tavia Tapley with 14 points and six rebounds and Robbi Ryan with 10 points
“This was very important, we didn’t want to go to four losses,” Tapley said. “One thing we did do was stick together and stay positive in the end when things were getting tough. We made sure we focused on staying together and finishing strong.”
Washington State shot 44.1 percent (26-for-59) and got 24 points out of Hristova and 13 points and six assists from guard Chanelle Molina.
The Sun Devils entered the contest sixth in the conference. While they aren’t necessarily battling for the top spot, there is still quite a bit at stake, most notably seedings for the postseason tournament and beyond.
“We don’t look past anybody. We’re still trying to get our mojo going again,” Turner Thorne said. “We just have a lot of young players.”
“This is a young team and we keep taking our foot off the gas. Our more veteran teams would get a lead and be able to sustain things and put people away. But it’s all good.” Turner Thorne said. “Any win in the conference is good and we’ll take it,”
ASU has five games left and this part of the schedule appears to be a chance to make up ground on the rest of the pack and bolster their resume. The toughest game remaining is against Stanford while the other four are against opponents in the bottom tier of the conference.
ASU remains at home to face Washington (11-13, 3-1) at noon Sunday.