(AP) – Although Arizona State didn’t end the season the way it hoped, it was rewarded with a No. 2 seed and the luxury of playing on its own court.
The No. 11 Sun Devils now have an opportunity to make that disappointing finish irrelevant Friday night when they face 15th-seeded New Mexico State in a first-round matchup in Tempe.
This was a season of accomplishments for Arizona State (25-6), which matched the school record with 15 straight wins, established a new mark with 11 road victories and tied the program’s highest AP ranking at No. 8.
The Sun Devils, though, blew a chance to win the Pac-12 regular-season championship outright with a loss at UCLA in the finale, then were upset by California in their opening game of the conference tournament.
Coach Charli Turner Thorne said her team, which relies on high energy, simply wore out. The Sun Devils played four of their last six games on the road.
”We were just spent I thought” she said, ”and we tried to fake it but that was it.”
The Sun Devils haven’t played in two weeks, and they’ve needed the time.
”We just got back to doing what we know how to do,” junior forward Sophie Brunner said, ”and working hard and just getting that edge back and growing more as a team and doing things we needed to do.”
It was something of a surprise that the Sun Devils were given a No. 2 seed – the highest the program has ever achieved – following the back-to-back defeats.
“Great surprise,” Brunner said. “To see that we got a two seed is just good knowing that all of our hard work has really paid off.”
Brunner was part of last year’s team that won its first two NCAA Tournament games before falling to Florida State, 66-65, in the Sweet 16. The Sun Devils have won at least one game in eight of their last nine NCAA appearances.
That’s a trend they look to continue against New Mexico State (26-4), the two-time Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion. The Aggies tied the school record for wins and enter the tournament on a 17-1 run.
Coach Mark Trakh is very familiar with Arizona State from his days as USC coach (2004-09).
”When I coached at `SC and we played against Arizona State we always had to prepare for how hard they played,” he said. ”I was just amazed at how hard they play. … It’s really just an amazing thing to watch to see how much Charli gets out of her team.”
New Mexico State ended a 27-year drought without an NCAA Tournament bid last season, losing to top-seeded Maryland, 75-57, in the opening round.
While the Aggies have faced one ranked team in the past six-plus years, the Sun Devils were 6-4 against such opponents this season.
Arizona State has won four of the last five in the series.