With the win, ASU moves on to face top-seeded Stanford the Pac-10 Tournament Final. Cal exits the tournament with its best finish ever and now awaits its invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
|AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Despite the loss, California head coach was proud of her team.
"Our team did a great job battling with them," said Boyle. "They're a tough team. Everybody knows that they rotate a lot of people in. But I thought our team played hard; they laid everything out there. We've improved every game we've played them. I'm proud of these guys for working so hard to give ourselves the best chance to win."
"That's what you call a gritty win," said Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne. "That's a March game. It's grind-it-out basketball. I think we did wear them down to some degree. Obviously, we're playing ten, and they're playing seven - barely seven, they're really playing five most of the game. That was obviously part of our game plan, to outwork them, to wear them down."
ASU started the game with tremendous intensity, pressing and forcing the Bears to play at their pace. They ran out to a 14-4 lead, with their guards dominating on the defensive end, tipping and challenging every pass. The Sun Devils set out to deny Vital the ball at every opportunity. Reagan Pariseau in particular harassed Vital into a couple of early turnovers.
"It was difficult to bring the ball up," said Vital. "They're just all up in your shorts every second. They don't let up. But I just did the best I could. As the game went on, it became easier."
"Reagan was amazing and she set the tone," said Turner Thorne. "And [Vital] is a really nice player, but kudos to Reagan because she affected Cal's ability to run the team and get the ball to the post players."
Ashley Walker tried to pick up her intensity as well, but was quickly called for 2 fouls and had to go to the bench with 12 minutes left. In the meantime, ASU got away with their customary managed mayhem.
It was not until Greif crumpled to the floor (apparently all on her own) that the officials began to call the game more tightly. Kristen Thompson got whistled for throwing down Keanna Levy before rushing back on defense. Aubree Johnson picked up her second foul climbing Hampton's back.
In meantime, Krista Foster gave the Bears a lift off the bench, providing toughness and opportunistic offense. Foster scored 6 points, including a lay-in over a mismatched Danielle Orsillo, in a 14-5 run that brought the Bears back within one at 18-19.
"Being a sixth and seventh man is hard," said Foster. "You just have to take your opportunities when you get them."
Emily Westerberg hit a tough shot over a double-team, but the Bears scored the next 7 points, with five from Hampton, to pull ahead 25-21. Perhaps just as important, both Westerberg and Thompson picked up their second foul in this stretch.
|AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Jill Noe dribbles past Krista Foster
Although the Sun Devils were no longer able to maul the Bears, ASU stayed aggressive on the boards. A second-chance basket by Orsillo and a clever stop and pop in the key by Westerberg gave Charli Turner-Thorne's team the 26-25 lead going into the break.
Jill Noe opened the second half with a tough take on Lauren Greif. The two teams traded baskets and fouls for the next several minutes, with Hampton picking up her second for Cal, and Westerberg and Johnson each getting charged with her third for ASU.
Natasha Vital gave Cal back the lead with her nifty drive, taking the ball left then switching to her right hand at the last second. Emily Westerberg then took charge, hitting three consecutive jumpers to give ASU a 44-41 lead.
At the 8:20 mark, Devanei Hampton got called for her fourth foul, and ASU looked poised to make their run. But Westerberg picked up her fourth foul climbing Walker's back on a rebound, and when Walker hit both ends of the one-and-one, the game was once again tied, 44-all.
Kristen Thompson, the tallest player on the floor, then came up big for ASU. Thompson scored the next 8 points for the Sun Devils, and ASU led by 52-46.
"It's always hard to play against them from behind," said Walker. "It's just about momentum. Down two, down four, down one, down two, kind of like that flip-flop thing, but we could never get over the hump. We're a young team, and that's something we can definitely work on."
"I think we did a tremendous job staying in tune with each other and having a March mentality," said Westerberg. "Down the stretch, I could see it in our guards' eyes, especially, just making sure that they had the tempo and controlled the floor."
Keanna Levy missed a three from the corner, but Hampton was there for the putback. The Bears then stole the ball inside on a double team, and Vital found Krista Foster for a 10-foot jumper and Cal was back within a basket, 50-52.
ASU then isolated Aubree Johnson on Hampton, who had four fouls, and Johnson scored easily. At the other end, Walker drove the baseline, and Westerberg got caught reaching for her fifth foul.
Hampton then fouled out of the game on a push-off.
"I was pretty upset," said Hampton. "It was a pretty physical game the whole game, and he called that one foul. I always want to be out there with my teammates. It was heartbreaking because we all wanted this."
Without Hampton inside, Reagan Pariseau grabbed two offensive rebounds, and ASU found Thompson inside for a basket and 56-51 lead.
"KT going 6-for-8 in the second half is tremendous," said Turner Thorne.
"I think I just had a different mind set in the second half," said Thompson. "Charli told me, 'You're got to stop playing for the foul,' and that's kind of what you've got to do."
|AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Two Walker free throws brought the Bears within one possession, and on the next possession, ASU committed a turnover. Walker went inside, but missed two shots, and Cal was forced to foul. Briann January and Aubree Johnson each hit two free throws to claim the hard-fought victory, 60-53.
Boyle shook off the loss and looked ahead.
"This is only going to help prepare us for the NCAA Tournament," said Boyle. "You know you're playing your best basketball down the stretch, and this is what March basketball is all about.
We can go deep into the Tournament. I think we're a tough team to play. I think we have a lot of strengths. We have to get some rest and refocus and commit ourselves to making a run in the Tournament. Whereas last year, no one had been there so it was new to everybody, we now have kids who know and understand what it is to be there. And playing these games the way we have down the stretch shows that we've matured in that way."
NOTES and QUOTES:
- Arizona State edged Cal 33-32 in rebounds.
- Cal had 22 turnovers against ASU's pressure but also forced the Sun
Devils into 17.
- Cal out shot ASU 46% to 42%, but the Sun Devils took 16 more shots.
- For such a physical game, relatively few free throws were shot. Cal hit
11 of 15, while ASU hit all six of their attempts.
- The three-pointer was not really a factor in the game. ASU hit 2 of 8,
while Cal missed all five attempts.
- Boyle on Foster's value to the team: "Krista has been really
good about being patient," said Boyle. "When there's been
an opportunity to play, she's taken advantage. It's tough being
the sixth or seventh man, not knowing when you'll play. You don't
know why you're in, you don't know why you're out. But
she is our biggest cheerleader on the bench. She helps out Ash and Dev with
whom they're playing on defense - 'sit on her left shoulder!' It's
just her work ethic, and you can't ask any more than that. And it's
X-factor for any team to have someone like that. "
- Boyle again paid tribute to Vital: "That's a tough freshman, sitting down there at the end of the table. For her to have to play the minutes she's played since December and come out of two games for like 30 seconds and have to go against that kind of pressure and not have any help because we don't have a typical combo guard that can help with the pressure, there's a lot to be said. We're here because of Tasha." Vital said, "Thank you, Coach," as her eyes welled up.
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