ASU Basketball: Devils enter NCAA Tournament as 5-seed, face UCF

ASU basketball found out where they were heading hours before the scheduled reveal as they were named to the Portland Regional as the No. 5 seed.

Arizona State heads back to the NCAA Tournament for a school record sixth consecutive season.

The Sun Devils earned a five-seed and will face the University of Central Florida in Coral Gables, Florida on Friday. Rather unceremoniously, head coach Charli Turner Thorne learned of this while her team was beginning practice, thanks to the bracket’s premature leak.

“Thirty years doing this and this has never happened before,” Turner Thorne said. “It’s all good, I hate sitting in that room and the anticipation. I am totally cool with someone showing me on a phone.”

ASU enters the tournament with a 20-10 record. This year, the team has been defined by strong defense, few turnovers and solid rebounding.

The Devils have also been battle tested from the beginning of the schedule, having played six games against top-10 competition. They held all of those opponents under their respective scoring averages.

In round one, they will be facing another tough defensive program.

“I know Katie’s (Abrahamson-Henderson) a really good coach,” Turner Thorne said. “They are an athletic team that presses that plays an aggressive zone press back into a zone.”

The Knights have allowed just 55.6 points per game this season, good for 15th fewest in the country. However, they play in the shallower American Conference, which is sending just two teams to the tournament, UCF and Connecticut.

The Knights did not fare well against the Huskies this year (three blowout losses), but they did have strong performances against other teams in the bracket with wins over Quinnipiac and Mercer, along with competitive losses to three-seed Syracuse and eight-seed Central Michigan.

If ASU does take down UCF, it will face the winner of Miami (host) and Florida Gulf Coast. The Devils are the only team in their region that had to travel out of state, but the anticipation is still high.

“We like to play in front of big crowds, it’s fun,” senior Kianna Ibis said. “This is the most fun time of the year.”

Most of Arizona State’s roster from two years ago are still on the team, and have endured consecutive second round exits. For seniors Courtney Ekmark, Charnea Johnson-Chapman, Sophia Ellenga and Ibis, this is the last shot to make a deep run.

“It definitely brings more urgency because it is one (loss) and my college career is over, Ibis said. “It would be really awesome to at least get to the Sweet Sixteen, for us who haven’t experienced it, we are really aiming for that.”

ASU making the tournament seems routine in the Turner Thorne era. But, she wants to make sure her players understand the significance of the bid.

“When we got back from the Pac-12 Tournament, I sat our team down and said, ‘don’t take this for granted’,” Turner Thorne said. “There are 350 division-one women’s basketball teams, 17 percent get to go the NCAA Tournament. Take out the automatic bids, only about nine percent get this opportunity. It is an incredible accomplishment by the young women in our program.”

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.