Familiar problems are beginning to resurface for the Lady Devils, as lack of rebounding and poor defense were two huge factors in both Saturday's game against Cal, and Thursday's game against No. 4 Stanford.
"If there was a disappointment for me, it was the way in which we played defensively," Anders stated. "To allow them to shoot 57% in the first half…I can't remember a team that shot 57% against us all year." Senior center Kali Bennett added, who scored 13 points, collected seven rebounds and added four blocked shots added: "Rebounding was the story of both our last two games. We're not boxing out. We're not going to get the ball. That gives them too many second chances."
Coach Anders and his players consider themselves a very defensive basketball team, and contribute their two losses this week to poor execution of defense.
"I don't think we should focus on our offense at all," Bennett claimed. "Our team has always found a way to win through defense. Today we found a way to respond offensively, but unless we pick up our defense, that's not going to get us anywhere. It's not our bread and butter."
Brittany Boyd led the Bears in scoring with 19 points, as the Devils had a tough time containing the freshman guard.
"We've lacked a little bit of focus in the last couple of games in really focusing on who we have to stop, and really sticking to our game plan," senior guard Alex Earl explained. "Stanford we had the sisters, (referring to Chiney and Nnemkadi Ogumike), and today it was more of a guard oriented group. We stuck a couple of different people on Boyd, and we just really couldn't keep her in front of us. She did well." Coach Anders added, "Boyd played extremely well. She's really beginning to evolve into a top caliber Pac-12 guard. To come out against us in her first showing, against what we feel is the best defense in the conference, and step up and get 19-6, great job."
The Lady Devils played the majority of the game without leading scorer Kimberly Brandon, due to an ankle injury sustained during Thursday's game vs. Stanford. Coach Anders was very pleased with the performances by Janae Fulcher and Jada Blackwell, who stepped up and played in replace of Brandon. "They're very, very athletic and talented. They both stepped in and did a great job for us in terms of trying to battle," said Anders. Blackwell finished the game with 5 points, while Fulcher contributed 6 rebounds.
Coach Anders does not attribute ASU's loss to Brandon's injury, as he feels his team as a whole has much room for improvement.
"Kim was out there against Stanford, and we didn't get rebound there either," Anders stated. "We have to have a greater urgency in terms of everyone contributing on the boards. Our box outs continue to be spotty and we've got to get better at it."
ASU held a five-game winning streak before facing Stanford on Thursday, which was the biggest streak of their season. With seven games remaining, (not including the Pac-12 tournament), the Lady Devils are confident in their ability to bounce back and finish their season strong.
"This season is not over," Earl explained. "We're not letting this slip away from us. Yeah, we lost two of these games, but we will absolutely bounce back. We won 5, we slipped up, but we have Colorado, Utah, the Washington's, and the Pac-12 tournament. We can go win that, and then get to the NCAA tournament, and that's our focus right now." Bennett added, "One game doesn't define us. We're the same team we were before this game started. Losing this game doesn't make us any less of a team."
Coach Anders had similar feelings regarding his team, and understands the reality of what needs to happen in order to be successful for the remainder of the season.
"We've gone through a stretch where we've lost three Pac-12 games, and then figured it out," Anders stated. "We began to work ourselves back into the position that we were prior to this weekend. We know what do, and we know how to do it. It's just a matter of us stepping up and doing those things on a more consistent basis. Every game has significance and every team has urgency, and we have to raise to that level of urgency."
ASU plays their last two home games of the season next week, as they take on Washington and Washington State at Wells Fargo arena. The Devils are already looking past these two losses, and are confident in their ability to finish this season strong.
"I'm proud of my team in terms of where we are right now," Anders said. "But we have to finish. We have to finish what we've started."