FRESNO, Calif. - Early in the first half, Arizona State women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne told her team to keep getting stops.
Did they ever.
The defensive-minded Sun Devils jumped out to a 14-4 lead and withstood two Eastern Kentucky runs in the second half for an 87-65 victory over the 12th-seeded Colonels Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Save Mart Center.
"I thought this was a perfect way to start the tournament," Turner Thorne said. "I think we had some lapses on defense, but we can tighten that."
ASU, winner of six of its last seven games, will face fourth-seeded Notre Dame in Monday’s second round.
The fifth-seeded Sun Devils forced four early turnovers in the first half and built a 23-7 lead.
Emily Westerberg scored 10 of her team-high 20 points in the first half, including two 3-pointers.
Arizona State (23-9) then went on a 7-0 run with 9:47 left in the first half to go up 33-12.
"(Arizona State) created havoc for us," said Eastern Kentucky’s Miranda Eckerle, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
"We didn’t take care of the ball well and they capitalized like good teams should do."
The Sun Devils’ lead was trimmed to 57-45 in the second half when the Colonels (23-8) went on an 8-0 run sparked by Ashley Cazee’s two 3-pointers with 12:49 left. Westerberg stopped the run with a layup.
The Colonels later went on a 7-0 run, but Kristen Kovesdy stopped it with a layup with 5:22 left to put the Sun Devils up 69-60.
"Give Arizona State credit," Eastern Kentucky coach Larry Joe Inman said.
"They took us out of our game. We didn’t take care of the ball down the stretch."
ASU put the game out of reach when a Kovesdy layup gave the Sun Devils an 83-63 lead with 1:15 left.
"I wasn’t really worried when they got it down to nine," Turner Thorne said.
"This team has too much character. We were pretty much in control from the start. We are very good at grinding out close games so this was a good start."
Kovesdy scored 18 points for Arizona State. Kovesdy was 9-of-11 from the field.
"Our guards kept getting me the ball," Kovesdy said. "We were all shooting so well right from the start."
Arizona State shot lights out in the first half. The Sun Devils made 59.4 percent (19-of-32) from the field and 66.7 percent (4-of-6) from 3-point range.
"I love our balanced attack," Turner Thorne said. "We hit our mid-range shot. We scored a lot of different ways." Eastern Kentucky never led in the game, while Arizona State led by as many as 22 points. "We can play better," Cazee said. "Their defense had a lot to do with our lack of scoring." Eastern Kentucky trailed 48-31 at halftime after shooting a dismal 35.7 percent.