ASU Basketball: Sun Devils open NCAA Tournament vs. UCF

ASU basketball looks to make the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season as they face the 12-seeded UCF Knights.

Arizona State doesn’t have much familiarity with its 2019 first-round opponent, the University of Central Florida.

The two schools have never played against one another, plus UCF has not even matched up with a Pac-12 team since Washington in 2009.

Both head coaches are certainly diving into tape to figure the other out, and ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne knows the defensive style her squad is up against.

“Physical, aggressive team,” Turner Thorne said. “Forty minutes of zone. What they lack in size they make up for with aggressiveness. They are going to press for the entire game.”

The Knights have been able to use that press to force nearly 20 turnovers per contest, almost 10 of which on steals. Their swarming defense has collapsed lesser squads, leading to a strong 26-6 record with only one loss to a non-tournament team.

However, ASU is not turnover prone, and it always has capable ball handlers on the floor with combinations of Reili Richardson (fifth in the nation in assist-turnover ratio), Robbi Ryan, Kiara Russell and Iris Mbulito. If the Sun Devils break the press effectively and take care of the ball, figuring out UCF becomes simpler.

UCF gets a lot of steals but it also turns the ball over more than 15 times per game. The Knights are also shy beyond the arc, having only taken 355 threes in 32 games (ASU has shot 557 to compare).

UCF’s only consistent deep threat is lead scorer Kornelia Wright at 34 percent, but even she doesn’t take very many (fewer than three per game).

The Sun Devils have an opportunity to emphasize clogging the lane to catch their opponents forcing it inside too often. If that is the case, Turner Thorne’s unit could draw a lot of charges, interceptions and potentially block a lot of shots. That way, ASU could potentially win by putting up significantly more field goals.

In UCF’s last loss to Connecticut, it was stuffed inside and finished the game shooting 35 percent. The Knights were dominated on the glass and didn’t force enough turnovers against the highly disciplined Huskies to keep it close. UConn shot seven more field goals and fouled UCF nine fewer times.

How Arizona State loses is by playing similarly to how it did against UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Sun Devils uncharacteristically lost the ball 17 times to the Bruins’ 10. ASU was outscored by six points off of turnovers and lost the game by four.

The blueprint is set for the Sun Devils to make the second round for the sixth-straight season and push for the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015. But they’ll need to play a disciplined game to do so.

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