COLUMBIA, S.C. –
Arizona State never wilted in playing No. 1 seed South Carolina on its home floor in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The Sun Devils had several opportunities to disappear but kept fighting in a game that featured seven ties and nine lead changes.
But when Sophie Brunner’s 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer, the Gamecocks escaped with a 71-68 victory in front of 8,276 partisan South Carolina fans.
“It was a really tough game,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We were really right there to take it and credit to South Carolina. I didn’t think we should be playing a one-seed in the second round on their home floor and I think we proved that in both our games. We competed incredibly well and I could not be more proud.”
ASU (20-13) led for more than 15 minutes and at times had South Carolina on the ropes. The Sun Devils led by 11 points early in the third quarter and still held a two-point advantage, 53-51, going into the fourth quarter. That’s when South Carolina (29-4) responded with a 16-4 spurt that included a five-point possession after Turner Thorne was called for a technical foul with 7:59 remaining.
But the Sun Devils had one final push in them. A switch to a zone defense seemed to make the Gamecocks timid on offense, and Reili Richardson and Sabrina Haines ignited an 11-0 run with 3-pointers over a 2:52 span setting the stage for the frantic finish. Haines’ 3 gave ASU its final lead at 68-67 lead with 2:04 remaining.
“We don’t care who you are, we don’t care what your rank is, we’re going to play our basketball regardless,” Haines said. “We were down 10 and we needed to get to work. We just weren’t able to finish it out.”
A’ja Wilson put the Gamecocks in front by scoring off an offensive rebound with 46.8 seconds left. The Sun Devils missed a shot to regain the lead but South Carolina left the door open after missing two free throws with 29 seconds left. ASU turned it over with 18 seconds left.
Wilson sank two free throws with 15 seconds remaining. Without any timeouts, ASU tried to run a set where any of four players could take the final shot but the ball was knocked out of bounds with 2.1 seconds left.
Turner Thorne yelled to get the ball to Sophie Brunner since the senior had made so many crucial shots in her career. She dribbled to the top of the key but her contested shot missed.
“We were out of timeouts so we were going by the seat of our pants,” Turner Thorne said. “Sophie’s had more game-winning shots in her career than all the players I have ever coached in my career combined. There is no one else we’d rather have to shoot the ball.”
The Sun Devils did all they could to contain Wilson, a finalist for the Naismith Trophy. The junior finished with 21 points and 11 points despite the fact she was double- or triple-teamed at times. The difference-maker for the Gamecocks could have been Kaela Davis. The junior scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half.
Brunner had the highest-scoring game of her NCAA Tournament career with 20 points. Richardson set a new career-high with 16 points and Haines added 12.
“It’s pretty difficult knowing we played our best game of the year,” Brunner said. “It’s hard knowing how far we could have gone. If we could have finished this game out, I think the road would have been endless for us. It’s been a great ride.”