SAN JOSE, Calif. - UCLA’s Nikki Blue had scored 36 points heading into the final seconds of Saturday’s Pac-10 tournament game against Arizona State.
She had to miss sometime — and she did, when it mattered most.
Blue came up short on a 2-footer in the final seconds, giving ASU a 73-71 first-round victory at HP Pavilion and a berth in today’s semifinals, where they will take on Oregon at 1:30 p.m.
Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said while she wasn’t happy with her team’s defensive effort, she was more than pleased with the way the Sun Devils stepped up down the stretch.
"I think the emotion and pressure of the situation got to us (early), (but) our defense showed up in the final minute," Turner Thorne said. "I think our best basketball is still ahead of us in this tournament. Everybody went in and did some OK things, and we got a great, hard-fought victory."
Timely shooting gave thirdseeded Arizona State (21-8) a clear edge in the minutes before Blue’s last-second miss.
With her team trailing 59-58, ASU’s Kylan Loney hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Devils a four-point lead with just less than five minutes left. Kristen Kovesdy then knocked down a layup on the Devils’ next possession to make it 65-60.
ASU’s slim lead held until UCLA’s Lisa Willis knocked down two free throws to make it 71-69 with 1:12 left.
But the sixth-seeded Bruins (16-12) couldn’t get any closer than two points despite the play of Blue and Willis, who combined to score 61 points. Just two other UCLA players, Lindsey Pluimer (seven points) and Lauren Pedersen (three) scored.
"(Blue and Willis) are two great, athletic players, but this isn’t an individual sport. It’s a team sport, and we had to be here for each other," Loney said. "Looking at the stat sheet, they scored the majority of the points, but they took a good amount of shots."
Unlike UCLA, Arizona State spread the ball around offensively. Nine Sun Devils scored, with Kovesdy leading the way with 19 points. Loney added 18 and Amy Denson scored 15.
Turner Thorne said the everybody-scores mentality was the key to beating a tough defensive team.
"We’ve played them twice this year, and we know we have to make the extra pass with the ball," she said. "In the second half, we were more selective, moved the ball first, and (Kovesdy) did an excellent job of finishing."
In other Pac-10 tournament games on Saturday, Oregon downed Washington 64-50, Stanford beat California 81-40 and Southern Cal defeated Arizona 74-66.