Story and photo by Vincent R. Crawford
For Arizona State (26-7), they were too tall, too athletic, and too talented. They were Tennessee (21-13). A second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 was not to be for the ASU women’s basketball team as the Tennessee Lady Volunteers upset the Sun Devils, 75-64, at home, in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
ASU and the Lady Vols have met three times and the Sun Devils have not won a contest against them yet. The loss on Sunday against seventh-seeded Tennessee was the most painful because it ended the Lady Sun Devils championship drive.
“Obviously not the result we wanted,” Sun Devils head basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “Credit Tennessee. I thought they really played well. Any time we had any miscue or didn’t do what we needed to do, they took advantage of it in every which way.”
Elisha Davis led ASU with a career-high 18 points. Quinn Dornstauder (15 pts.), Arnecia Hawkins (13), Sophie Brunner (12) also scored in double figures for the Sun Devils, who came into the NCAA Tournament with their highest seed in program history (No. 2 in the Sioux Falls Region). Tennessee had four players – Diamond DeShields (24), Jordan Reynolds (12), Mercedes Russell (12) and Jaime Nared (11) – score in double figures. The Lady Vols knocked down 52 percent of their shots and out-rebounded the Sun Devils 36-30.
Time and again the Sun Devils would battle back from deficits only to see Tennessee counter with baskets by DeShields. The game was tied 33-all at halftime. Trailing by seven midway through the third quarter, ASU got back within two after Brunner scored and Peace Amukamara followed with a 3-pointer. Tennessee answered by scoring 10 of the game’s next 12 points to take a 54-44 lead. Davis’s long buzz-beating 3-pointer made the score 54-47 entering the final period.
In the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils closed within five and got stops on each of Tennessee’s next two possessions, but they were unable to trim any more off Tennessee’s lead after turning the ball over on one possession and missing a shot on another.
After DeShields’ basket put Tennessee back up by seven, ASU came back within four, 56-52, with seven minutes remaining. DeShields, who scored 14 of her 24 points in the final quarter, scored back-to-back to put the Lady Vols back up by eight. ASU went scoreless for over three minutes allowing Tennessee to increase their lead to double digits, 62-52, with five minutes left. With 2:07 left, ASU trailed 62-56, but DeShields hoop and the Lady Vols going 11-for-12 from the free throw line the final minute, clinched the win for Tennessee.
Regular-season co-champions of the Pac-12, the Sun Devils concluded the 2015-16 campaign with 26 wins, tied with the 2008-09 team for third most in school history.