Trailing by three points midway through the third quarter of its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Nebraska, Arizona State decided it had had enough.
“A fire kind of lit under our butts,” sophomore forward Jamie Ruden said. “We decided we needed to ramp up the pressure.”
The No. 7-seeded Sun Devils used that fire to propel themselves into the second round with a 73-62 win Saturday afternoon at the Erwin Center. Awaiting them Monday will be the Texas-Maine winner.
Arizona State (22-12) trailed 38-35 when it began a 16-2 run over the final 5 minutes, 33 seconds of the third quarter. The Sun Devils held the 10th-seeded Cornhuskers (21-11) without a field goal for nearly eight minutes as they pushed the lead as high as 16 early in the fourth.
“We just combined some really good defense with hitting shots,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said.
Robbi Ryan led the Sun Devils with 16 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Kianna Ibis (14 points), Ruden (11) and Reili Richardson also reached double figures.
Arizona State dominated Nebraska on the glass, gaining a 49-27 rebounding advantage. That included 21 offensive rebounds.
The Sun Devils converted those extra possessions into 16 second-chance points.
“We just wanted it more,” said Ibis, who had eight rebounds. “We just wanted to stay aggressive on offensive rebounds, and we just went at them. We don’t want to be boxed out, so we just went around them.”
The Huskers hardly seemed handicapped by their lack of rebounds in the first half. Despite a 23-11 disparity on the boards overall and 11-2 on the offensive end, the score remained tied 27-27 at halftime. In fact, the Sun Devils needed a Richardson 3-pointer in the closing seconds to pull even.
Nebraska surged out of the break to take a 36-33 advantage after back-to-back 3s from Hannah Whitish.
That’s when Arizona State finally seized control.
Nebraska played most of the game without starting guard Maddie Simon, who picked up her third foul early in the third quarter. Huskers coach Amy Williams said she challenged Simon to get 10 rebounds against the Sun Devils, who rank 35th nationally in rebounding.
Simon had no points and no rebounds in 15 minutes.
“We got outrebounded by 22,” Williams said. “You’re not going to win very many games, particularly not in the NCAA Tournament, if you can’t handle that area of the game.”
Janay Morton led Nebraska with 16 points, Taylor Kissinger added 15, and Whitish finished with 12. However, the trio combined to make only 12 of 34 shots from the field.
Nebraska shot 37.3 percent (19 of 51) as a team.
“We had our looks,” Whitish said. “They didn’t fall, and I think that was the turnaround” in the third quarter.
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