#12 California defeats #5 Arizona State in Game 1 of 2020 Women's Basketball Tournament
By W.G. Ramirez
LAS VEGAS -- Although Cal's women's basketball team pulled off a 55-54 upset over Arizona in the regular-season finale, senior CJ West didn’t forget about missing a pair of free throw attempts with 16 seconds left.
It was the first thing she thought about when she stepped to the line in the closing moments of Thursday's opening round game against No. 22 Arizona State, and the Golden Bears leading by two.
“I was like, 'I need to redeem myself and not do the same thing and choke and miss both my free throw,'" said West, who left in the third quarter after a scary fall. "After the Arizona game I shot a bunch of free throws, so I felt pretty confident.”
West and freshman Cailyn Crocker combined to hit five of six free throws down the stretch to help the 12th-seeded Bears eliminate No. 5 seed Arizona State, 71-67, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The Bears avenged a 77-54 thrashing, Arizona State's largest Pac 12 victory during the regular season. Cal, just the second 12 seed in Pac 12 history to win a tournament game, will face a revenge-minded Arizona team in a quarterfinal showdown on Friday.
Senior Jaelyn Brown led Cal with 22 points and six rebounds, Crocker had 20 points and six rebounds, and freshman Jazlen Green finished with 14 points and four steals.
“We just wanted to be the tougher team, and that was really the theme," Cal coach Charmin Smith said. "We can't let them want it more than us. We can't let them be tougher than us. And I think we showed up in that department, and it allowed us to be able to get the win.”
Cal outscored the Sun Devils with its bench, 18-13, led by Green.
“It is really special to have freshman that you can call upon on and say 'hey, go make a play,'" Smith said. "And it's just great to see how they don't care who we're playing against, where we are playing, what we're ranked, how many losses or wins the opponent has or we have. They're there to compete night in and night out. It is just -- we have a really special freshman group.”
Using a suffocating full-court press midway through the second quarter, the Bears erased a 15-point deficit, and used a 20-0 run that spanned 3 minutes, 35 seconds over the third and fourth quarters to steal momentum and seize control of the game.
“I think there was a time when I think (ASU senior) Reili (Richardson) wasn't in, and Dale (Farrow), my assistant, said 'let's try pressing them,'" Smith said. "We saw there was a lack of ball handlers from our viewpoint, and then it worked. And I think they got a little bit rattled, so we stayed with it. We stayed with it, no matter who was in the game.”
While it didn't help the Sun Devils that senior guard Kiara Russell was out with a knee, the same defense that held Cal to 36.4 percent shooting in the first quarter, and 37.5 percent in the second, allowed the Bears to shoot a blistering 53.8 (7 of 13) percent in the third stanza.
“We threw it sideways, we wanted to go from the middle and attack from there," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. "I mean, I put my freshmen in there, you know, they just played a little sideways, you know, didn't step to the pass. Honestly, it didn't matter who we played today; we didn't have it. We didn't play good basketball. I do credit Cal for sure. We just didn't play well.”
The Sun Devils played well enough to claw back into the game after falling behind by eight with 8:47 left in the game, using an aggressive game plan that drew four straight fouls to stop the clock and get three players to the free-throw line, including Richardson, who hit four in a row to bring ASU within one, at 66-65.
W.G. Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez