TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been a long time since the top three teams in any college sport lost in a four-day span. It’s even rarer that one unranked opponent is responsible for two of them. The Arizona State Sun Devils entered the weekend at 11-4, out of the rankings and losers of two of three. They finished it at 13-4 and with two of the biggest upsets of the season in their pockets.
The rankings shakeup began on Thursday with reigning national champion Baylor knocking UConn off its top-ranked pedestal. Boasting the No.2 ranking and prospective Player of the Year Sabrina Ionescu, the Oregon Ducks looked destined to return to where they were preseason, atop the poll.
The Sun Devils came from behind to beat the Ducks, 72-66, the student section rushed the court, and the players bathed ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne in water, following one of the trademark wins in program history.
“I thought that team, Oregon, was the best team in the country,” Turner Thorne said on Friday. “I told our team that if they win, celebrate like you won the national championship because you are good enough to.”
But the Sun Devils couldn’t get too comfortable, knowing a tipoff with the No. 3 undefeated Oregon State Beavers was 40 hours away. ASU went on a 13-4 run in the first quarter and carried a 10-point lead to the half. Destiny Slocum tied it with a three midway through the fourth for OSU, but the Sun Devils capitalized on a 55-47 win.
Jamie Ruden, a senior who missed nine games due to injury earlier this season, came off the bench with nine first half points on Sunday and scored 12 critical points late in the Oregon win.
“With this team, we have really great potential,” Ruden said, “so I don’t think about limits. I just focus on what we can control and our positive energy. The cool thing about the Oregon game is it showed we have great fight within us. We finished really strong in the Oregon Game, and I knew this was going to be a similar game.”
The Sun Devils held Oregon to 23 points below its scoring average and the Beavers to 29.
“All the best teams in basketball,” Turner Thorne added, “we play different styles of defense, but there is not a great team that doesn’t play great defense. Our team knows that if they work hard on defense every day, and they have a chance to win, it’s controllable.”
Besides the early season absence of Ruden, several other players have missed time with injuries this season. Coach Turner Thorne added that senior guard and three-point weapon Reili Richardson had the flu and a 102-degree temperature on Friday morning. Friday evening, she scored 12 points with two of the biggest shots from downtown in the game.
“It’s a great feeling,” senior guard Robbi Ryan said of the wins, “and I am just really excited for Coach Charli because she’s a great coach and she deserves wins like this, and for what she does for us. Us older players know that if we stick to the game plan and what Charli’s taught us over the years, it’s the extra things that make a difference.”
Bench points have also been huge for ASU, which outscored Oregon 13-4 and the Beavers 25-15. The Sun Devils might not have a draft pick like Ionescu or Mikayla Pivec on their roster, but they work together as a team.
“The biggest thing is we’re learning the mindset of how to be a great team,” Turner Thorne added. “I just prepare, and I think about what the team needs. I believed we could win both, and I thought we’ve been playing better every game. I felt good that we’ve had success this weekend.”
At this point, ASU probably played itself into the tournament with the wins, being part of a conference that could obtain seven bids and still has an undefeated UCLA team.
“Big picture, how amazing the Pac-12 is,” Turner Thorne said. “I hope the whole country looks at these games and realizes we have a lot of great teams in our conference. Not just Oregon and Oregon State. It’s so fun to watch this team grow and develop.”