Playing with a No. 2 seed for the first time in program history, the Arizona State women’s basketball team lived up to the standards of the selection committee in crushing 15th-seeded New Mexico State, 74-52, Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Wells Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils (26-6) will play No. 7 Tennessee (20-13) Sunday, following the Lady Volunteers’ 59-53 win over Green Bay earlier in the day.
“We really wanted to start strong,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “Katie Hempen really stepped up today, but we want to have a balanced attack on Sunday.”
Hempen, the ASU senior guard, was six-of-six from downtown to establish an NCAA tourney record for at least five attempts. Fellow senior guard Elisha Davis scored 13 with six assists, and the team held NMSU to 33 percent shooting.
“It felt good, but my teammates did a lot to get myself open,” said Hempen, who averages nine points per game. “It’s win or go home. Being able to play someone different than the Pac-12 makes it a new game. You don’t know everyone’s tendencies. I’m always looking for positives.”
The Aggies (26-5) entered the game as the WAC champions, winning 17 of the previous 18 games and in their second-consecutive tournament. In her final game, senior Sasha Weber scored 18 points, while Moriah Mack added 11. Tyler Ellis led the team with six rebounds.
“They came out and made a statement in the first half,” NMSU coach Mark Trakh said. “In the second half, we calmed down, but we dug ourselves too deep, they battled in the second half. We’re looking forward to next year, we’ll have five seniors who have given us a culture of working hard.”
Shooting 61 percent, ASU outscored the Aggies 45-24 in the first half, but only 29-28 in the second, although the Sun Devils bench had been cleared and outscored NMSU 25-3. The Sun Devils also capitalized on 26 points off turnovers and 14 fast break points.
“We came out hard in the second half and knocked down shots we should have knocked down,” NMSU guard Brooke Salas said. “If we came out in the first half like we did in the second, it would have been a different result.”
It was the third-straight season the Sun Devils won an opening round NCAA game, matching victories over Vanderbilt in 2014 and Ohio in 2015. Their opponent on Sunday, however, has advanced to the second round in 34 of the 35 times the event has been held.
“Even though we did force 21 turnovers, we could have done a lot more things defensively,” Davis said. “We got relaxed in the second half. Going into the next game, we never change what we do, but we have to stay in the moment, giving our best effort and staying poised.”