The next step in the journey will certainly be the toughest as standing between the Sun Devils and the Final Four is possibly the best women's college basketball team ever, the undefeated Connecticut Huskies.
Despite the talent and intimidation factor the Huskies will bring, these Sun Devils won't back down. They certainly didn't on Sunday against Texas A&M, despite the Aggies (27-8) coming in heavily favored as the #2 seed.
From start to finish ASU (26-8) set the tone and played with superior effort, team-work and hustle than the Aggies.
"I didn't think one team could win all of the hustle plays, but they did," said Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair, "Look at the easy baskets that they had and look how hard we had to work." Briann January was the difference maker for ASU.
She scored 22 points and dominated the Aggie defense like nobody has all season long. "Arizona State is very good, the game was won at the point guard," said Blair, "January is every bit as good as we thought and even better offensively. The two young kids just couldn't guard her."
The first half was almost the exact opposite of what most people thought the style of play was going to be. Both teams traded shot after shot and it seemed like neither team could stop the other. ASU shot 66.7% (16-24) in the first half and the Aggies shot 16-29 for 55.2%.
"It looked like a HORSE game in the first half because nobody could stop the other," said Blair, "Both teams were doing what they wanted to offensively."
"Tremendous job by Arizona State, what they did on the offensive end, kids stepped up and made plays. Every time we thought we were going to make a stop, they got an offensive rebound and a layup."
Both teams picked up their defense in the second half, but there was another factor that helped the Sun Devils, their depth. Turner Thorne substituted over 60 times, while Texas A&M only subbed 13 times.
"In the second half I think it did," said A&M guard Danielle Gant when asked if ASU's rotations and depth wore them down, "They kept rotating in but that wasn't the reason why we lost the game."
ASU's bench outscored the Aggies' bench 26-12, mainly thanks to the 14 points off the bench from senior Lauren Lacey. Nia Fanaika also chipped in six off of the bench.
January led ASU with 22 and Danielle Orsillo had 15. Lacey added 14, Kayli Murphy nine and six each from Sybil Dosty and Kate Engelbrecht. "With us losing Dymond it has made us come together," said January, "It has made us become more cohesive on the court. It has given everybody a chance to step up."
Orsillo agreed with January and said that she believes that ASU is a different team without Simon, not necessarily better, but they present different challenges to opposing teams.
"I think we had a growing period and a period to adjust, but we came out stronger than ever," said Orsillo, "We are different, we had to work on different things."
It was the first time Texas A&M had allowed over 80 points this season. The Aggies have held opponents under 60 points in 27 of 34 games that they have played this year. The previous high scored on the Aggies was 72 by Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game.
The Oklahoma Sooners, who will play for a Final Four berth tomorrow, scored 71 in the regular season against A&M. It was the most points scored on the Aggies in nearly three years.
"Hopefully that is the best Arizona State can play," said Blair, "Because I don't think that they can play any better than they did today." They certainly will have to bring it against a Connecticut team that average margin of victory is over 31 points per game. The Huskies haven't lost since falling to Stanford in the national semifinal in last year's Final Four.
"We're going to come out and play," said Orsillo, "What we've done in the past and they've done in the past isn't going to matter. It's going to be that game on that night and we're not going to look forward or back we'll live in the present."
Turner Thorne echoed that statement. ASU's veteran head coach has never shied away from playing the best competition and knows that to be the best, you must beat the best.
"It is an incredible opportunity to play the team to beat," said Turner Thorne, who has now taken the Sun Devils to the Elite Eight in two of the last three years, "The unbeaten team, the team that everyone's picked to win the national championship. I'm so excited. It's going to take an unbelievable effort to advance."
The Devils have at least one believer in Aggies coach Gary Blair. He thinks that if ASU can play the way they did on Sunday that the Devils can give UConn (36-0) a run.
"They were the better basketball team today," said Blair, "If they can play at that level, they can give Connecticut a good run, and Connecticut is one of the greatest teams I have ever seen."
Tipoff for the Elite Eight showdown is set for 4PM Arizona time on Tuesday and can be seen on ESPN.