Arizona State’s 69-61 victory Saturday over Vanderbilt at the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena may have had a few blemishes, such as 19 turnovers.
But when a team shoots 62 percent from the field, as the Sun Devils did in their NCAA women’s basketball tournament first-round game, all those imperfections are easily overlooked.
“Our shooting has offset everything all year long,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We’re a young team, and we have virtually no tournament experience and wasn’t expected to do anything outside our program. But we’ve been able to score.”
Katie Hempen scored 16 points to lead the Sun Devils (23-9), who will play Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Savage Arena. Sophie Brunner had 14 points and nine rebounds, while Elisha Davis scored 11 and Promise Amukamara 10.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos of the game.
Marqu’es Webb scored 18 points and had eight rebounds for Vanderbilt (18-13), which also got 16 points from Christina Foggie.
The Sun Devils used a 10-2 run midway through the first half to build an 18-8 lead with 8:33 to play, with Hempen hitting a pair of 3-pointers to fuel the run.
“[Coach Turner Thorne] had a talk a few weeks ago, and she said, ‘Katie, just shoot the ball,” Hempen said. “So that’s what I’ve been doing.
“I’ve also started moving better off-ball, and that helps a lot.”
A 14-2 response by Vanderbilt, which was capped by a Morgan Batey layup with 3:19 left in the half, gave the Commodores a 23-22 lead.
But Hempen made another 3 just 20 seconds later, then connected on her fourth 3-pointer at 2:25 and Arizona State led 30-24 at the break.
“[Their ability to answer our runs] ground on us all game,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “It certainly did me, and I’m sure it was even more so for our players out on the court. It wears you out.”
The Commodores came out in the second half determined to score inside and were successful as a quick 8-2 run tied the game at 32-32 at 15:55 of the period.
“All year long everybody has been telling me to shoot the ball more and to stop passing,” said Webb, who had 14 of her points in the second half.
But another Arizona State 3-pointer, this one by Deja Mann, gave the Sun Devils the lead for good. Vanderbilt managed to stay within a possession of ASU for much of the second half, the Commodores were undone by poor free-throw shooting (they made just 14-of-27, or 51.9 percent) and a number missed shots from close range.
“They took away a lot of our looks and made us go fast, and by the time we adjusted and slowed down we had trouble finishing layups and making free throws,” Balcomb said. “In the second half, when we did make our runs, we then couldn’t get the stops that we needed at the end of possessions.”
And with Arizona State making 16-of-24 shots from the floor in the second half, the Sun Devils scored on their final nine possessions to close out the win.
“From Day 1, when we learned we had the chance to get into the NCAA tournament, … all we did was shoot,” Davis said. “If practice started at 11, everyone would be in at 10:30 shooting. We shot before [practice], we shot during, we shot after. Everybody emphasized the importance.”
ASU also used its success shooting from the outside to pound the ball inside, scoring 20 points in the paint.
“If they were collapsing on the outside shooting, obviously the inside was going to be open,” said Brunner, who scored eight in the second half. “The coaches emphasized at halftime to look vertical, to look down the middle, so I knew I had to seal off [defenders].
“It was wide open, and the guards did a good job of seeing me down low.”