COLUMBIA, S.C. – Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne is hesitant to call the Sun Devils’ second-round matchup with top-seeded South Carolina in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament a rematch from last season, even though the two teams played at the beginning of the 2015-16 season in the Waikiki Beach Marriott Rainbow Wahine Showdown in Hawaii.
The key players have changed drastically but the one constant, according to Turner Thorne, is that South Carolina is still one of the top programs in the country.
“I don’t know how much of a rematch it is,” Turner Thorne said. “We graduated all our starting guards. It will be a very new, different game. We do need to focus on ourselves and what we can do better but we have a quick turnaround to prepare for one of the best teams in the country.”
The Sun Devils’ backcourt will be new but the seniors on this year’s team remember how physical the game ended up. Center Quinn Dornstauder received several stitches in her chin in the first half but returned to the game. Guard Kelsey Moos suffered a concussion and missed the final 11 minutes of the game, and Sophie Brunner injured her ankle to miss the final 4:27.
Even with that, South Carolina needed two free throws from All-American A’ja Wilson with six-tenths of a second remaining for a 60-58 victory.
“It was a very tough game to play,” Wilson said. “We’re going to have to know how to play through the physicality of this team.”
Moos thought it was a hard-fought game and expects the same this year.
“It was very, very physical,” Moos said. “We’re both two physical, aggressive teams going head to head. It was a great battle last year, and they came out on top. We know we could have done a few things differently to take that game. But this is a new team, new year and we’re looking forward to the matchup.”
One of the biggest challenges of facing South Carolina this season is the game will be on the Gamecocks’ home floor. South Carolina (28-4) is 14-1 at home this season and has led the nation in attendance for three consecutive years. The 8,215 fans that attended Friday’s game were the most of any host site on the first day of the tournament.
“Our ability to sort of master the environment is going to be critical for our ability to be successful,” Turner Thorne said. “If we can handle the environment, I think the rest is going to be really good.”
The Gamecocks return Wilson, one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy. Transfers Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray have added offensive firepower to an already solid defensive team. South Carolina will be without All-American Alaina Coates. The senior will miss the NCAA Tournament recovering from an ankle injury.
“South Carolina is obviously one of the best teams in the country,” Turner Thorne said. “We played them last year but we played them early. They didn’t have Davis and they didn’t have Gray and they’re kind of a different team. I would say they’re older and better. They added some great players.”
South Carolina is coached by Dawn Staley, who was just recently named the 2020 Olympic head coach. Staley took over a program near the bottom of the SEC and turned them into a national contender.
“She’s done an unbelievable job incredibly quick, which is not easy to do in a BCS conference,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s obviously a great coach and great recruiter and our next Olympic coach and that speaks volumes. It will be fun to coach against her.”
ASU vs. South Carolina
What: NCAA Tournament second round
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.
Streaming/radio: ESPN3/107.5 The Game