For the first time in three weeks, ASU basketball returns home to host the ASU Classic playing Louisiana Tech Saturday and either Alabama or Tulsa Sunday.
With finals week looming, Arizona State will have to muster up energetic performances on back-to-back nights to retain the ASU Classic title.
Regardless, Charli Turner Thorne’s program looks to win the tournament for the third straight year and fifth time in six seasons.
This go around, the Devils take on Louisiana Tech on Saturday and either Alabama or Tulsa on Sunday in the final or third-place game.
The Sun Devils have gotten off to a promising start at 3-2 with their only losses against two top-five teams.
In both games, Arizona State led going into the fourth quarter. This has led to their rise in the NCAA rankings from No. 23 to No. 19.
The Devils have no more top-25 opponents until conference play, but their competition this weekend can’t be overlooked.
Starting with Louisiana Tech, a historically great program, has not seen the same success in the past decade as it is accustomed to. However, the Techsters have stayed competitive with consecutive over .500 seasons.
They are 4-2 to start 2018-2019, although their losses have come against a poor Little Rock team and an average at best Wichita State team.
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Defense has been an issue this campaign as opponents are scoring nearly 70 points per game against La. Tech.
They foul quite a bit so ASU will need to capitalize by hitting their free throws, which has been an issue thus far. The Devils connect on 65.5 percent of free throws. That has been a point of emphasis at practices, and will need to improve going forward.
Back to the Techsters, their player to pay extra attention to is Kierra Anthony. The senior exploded for 50 points against Houston, shooting 17-of-29 from the field, and she has scored 20 or more in four of six games. She has improved each year at the school, but she hasn’t come close to scoring as much as she does now.
“She’s a three-level scorer,” said Turner Thorne. “She’s very good and she can pass, she reminds me a little bit of Asia Durr.”
The Techsters top five scorers are listed as guards, so ASU will need to protect the perimeter and rotate well against smaller, quicker lineups.
In its last loss to the Shockers, La. Tech was dominated inside so look for bigs Kianna Ibis (12.4 PPG), Sophia Ellenga (8.8 PPG) and Charnea Johnson-Chapman (6.0 PPG) to be big factors on offense for the Devils.
As for Sunday, ASU is likely to take on Alabama (5-1). The Crimson Tide has had one opponent finish within 18 points of them in their five wins.
Three players average double figures in points, led by Jasmine Walker at 14.7. She shoots 41 percent from deep, and at 6’3”, she is very effective on the glass.
As a team, Alabama shoots well from three at 36 percent. The Tide’s Achilles heel this season has been turning the ball over. They give the ball up over 19 times per game.
ASU is a great team at forcing turnovers, so extra possessions could be the deciding factor if that matchup occurs. Alabama’s sole loss was on the road against another Pac-12 squad, Utah, 72-62.
“They are a veteran team with four starters back,” said Turner Thorne. “Kristy Curry is a great coach, they are very athletic, can really shoot the ball.”
When asked how to prepare for back-to-backs, Turner Thorne added, “We usually take it one team at a time, we combine some things, there are similarities between them (La. Tech and Alabama), we could see 80 mins of zone since both Alabama and Louisiana Tech mix up their defenses, that’s something we’re preparing for.”
On the off-chance ASU takes on Tulsa on Sunday, the Devils would face a struggling offense. The Golden Hurricanes shoot 36 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three. Tulsa’s saving grace this season has been the turnover battle, where they force 3.6 more than their opponents this year.
ASU will be favored in both games this weekend, but a matchup with Alabama will likely be its toughest challenge, especially since it will be the Devils’ second straight week with a back-to-back. Not to mention, other areas of the Sun Devils’ lives will need focus as well.
“They’re in finals right now,” said Turner Thorne. “We just have to grind and find the mental energy.”
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.