After struggling much of the afternoon, a former Mesa prep star had Stanford’s fortunes in her hands.
Kayla Pedersen didn’t have the best game of the season on Sunday, but she was big when needed, including a pair of buckets down the stretch and a clutch free throw with 17 seconds remaining in the seventh-ranked Cardinal’s 60-56 Pac-10 win over Arizona State before a season-best 8,516 non-NFL fans.
But even with her individual performance late, the former Mesa Red Mountain High star refused the spotlight.
“This was a big road trip for our team,” Pedersen said. “Going down and beating Arizona, playing against a team like ASU, we needed these wins to build our confidence. It was great that a lot of people came to the game. I think just the atmosphere showed how tough we are and can pull through anything.”
It didn’t start that way for the two-time Tribune high school player of the year.
She missed her first three shots and then a free throw and finished the half with one point. She bounced back to get her average — 12 points, eight rebounds — playing all but three minutes of the second half.
“No jitters, just couldn’t hit my shot,” she said. “But (I) got it going in the second half.”
For ASU, now having dropped behind Stanford in the standings at 5-2 and 11-7 overall, it was a tale of two halves. The Sun Devils clicked to an 11-point halftime lead (31-20) and then went 12:29 without a basket in the second.
“I don’t exactly what happened in those 12 minutes,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We’ve had some serious droughts throughout this entire year. So it’s been something we have been living with all too often. To me, it stems from our aggressiveness.”
She later elaborated on what she meant.
“We’re going to get tougher,” Turner Thorne said. “We’re not tough-minded enough to win this basketball game.”
ASU came out aggressive. The patented pressure defense appeared. The Sun Devils even double-teamed All-American Candice Wiggins, forcing her to miss six of her first eight shots. ASU led by as much as 14 and had a 31-20 advantage at the break. Another Valley prep star — Phoenix St. Mary’s Kayli Murphy — had a game in the first 20 minutes for ASU, grabbing 10 rebounds.
But Pedersen hit her first field goal less than a minute into the second half and sparked a quick 7-0 run. The game got close after that. A 12-4 run gave the Cardinal the lead for good with 7:37 left. Wiggins finished with 18 points, four assists and four steals.
“I think our offense just became stagnant,” said ASU forward Sybil Dosty (eight points, 10 rebounds).
ASU made it exciting when Briann January hit a 3-pointer with 33 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 57-56, but then Murphy fouled Pedersen to the stop the clock with 17 seconds left. Pedersen hit the second free throw and after Dymond Simon missed a quick jumper, January’s drive came up short and she fouled Jeanette Pohlen with 9.9 seconds left. Pohlen made her two free throws for the final margin.