March 21, 2005
By JANIE McCAULEY
FRESNO, Calif. - When Arizona State honored its seniors last month, Kylan Loney knew there would be more to celebrate later.
Arizona State's aggressive defense, timely shooting and gritty determination earned the Sun Devils that coveted trip home for the Tempe Regional.
Loney scored eight points in the final 1:29 and finished with 20 and the fifth-seeded Sun Devils erased an early 13-point deficit to shock No. 4 Notre Dame 70-61 on Monday night.
"We said on senior night that this really isn't senior night because we're going to be back," Loney said. "This confirms it."
She and her teammates immediately rushed to center court of the Save Mart Center to celebrate the school's first second-round victory in the NCAA tournament.
Aubree Johnson had 12 points and nine rebounds and Amy Denson added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench for the spirited Sun Devils, who gained the momentum on Betsy Boardman's buzzer-beating 3-pointer at halftime.
The Fighting Irish, ranked 11th in the nation and trying to advance past the second round for the third straight year, didn't exhibit the kind of fight the Sun Devils showed in the second half.
"We looked tired mentally," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "It seemed like we hit a wall, and mentally we just couldn't get over it."
Arizona State (24-9), the Pac-10's top defensive team this season, hustled into the huddle during timeouts and hit the floor for loose balls. Coach Charli Turner Thorne high-fived her players to fire them up at every opportunity - and the Sun Devils kept making big baskets whenever Notre Dame (27-6) threatened.
After Jacqueline Batteast's putback pulled the Irish to 49-44 with 6:11 remaining, Emily Westerberg converted a three-point play on the other end for Arizona State, making an off-balance layup at 5:47. And Kristen Kovesdy answered a Notre Dame score with a fast-break layup at 3:30 to make it 58-50.
Batteast had 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in her final game for Notre Dame, which committed 23 turnovers, had only seven assists and went away from what had worked so well in the first half: pounding the ball inside. Megan Duffy, who brought the Irish back in their first-round win over UC Santa Barbara, scored 20 of her 24 points after halftime.
Her two free throws with 2:34 made it 58-54, then Reagan Pariseau swished a 12-footer at 2:06.
All season, Arizona State refused to talk about the possibility of playing at home in the tournament - but it was always the objective. The Sun Devils went 12-1 at home this season, including a 61-50 upset of three-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut on Dec. 21.
Turner Thorne asked her team to be aggressive Monday against the physical Irish, and the Sun Devils more than obliged.
Stanford's fans, in the seats for the next game, cheered "Go Pac-10!" and "A-S-U!" in the waning moments.
The Sun Devils reached the round of 16 in 1982 and '83, but that's when the bracket featured only 32 teams.
Turner Thorne was razzed during the Pac-10 media day back in October for predicting the Sun Devils would reach the Final Four.
"For all those people who teased me, this is what we've been looking for," Turner Thorne said. "We have a huge advantage right now. Part of the battle was getting home. The other part is winning."
Notre Dame freshman guard Charel Allen went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee injury with 14:23 remaining after colliding with Boardman and did not return.
The Sun Devils trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, but opened the second half with a 12-2 run to build a 35-30 lead.
"For that 10-minute stretch, we couldn't do anything right," McGraw said. "I thought Arizona State played a great game with a lot of inspiration. Having the regional in Tempe was great motivation for them to play hard."
Batteast, the Big East player of the year and Notre Dame's leading scorer, had eight points and six straight during a key 16-3 run midway through the first half.