Wednesday, January 9, 2019

There's danger in the Arizona desert

Charlie Thorne's bunch down in Tempe are from all over the map - and that's the way they play too. Geographically they're from pretty much everywhere except Arizona -The Canary Islands, France, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Illinois, California, Washington, and British Columbia. Oh yeah, Courtney Ekmark is from Arizona (by way of UConn). But that's pretty much how they play, as well - all over the map. They scare the pants off the (currently) #4 ranked Baylor Bears, up by six going into the fourth, and then lose to their instate rival Wildcats by twelve and only score 39 points. They lose to the (currently) # 2 ranked Louisville Cardinals by two, and then escape last weekend from Salt Lake City with a two point win over Utah.

So, I guess we just need to assume they'll be loaded for bear Friday evening when the Cardinal come to call. That's what Charlie's hoping. Obviously, they're talented and they've got a lot of heart. As Tara said in her Press Conference after UCLA, we can't afford to come out of the gate slow any more. We have to assume we'll be getting the giant-killer Sun Devil team and play accordingly. If we come out hitting 2 of our first 12 shots - in their building - we'll have a hard time catching them. They're 5 and 0 in Tempe.

Kianna Ibis is their leading scorer and has a remarkable feel for the game. Her timing is impeccable and her 6'-1" frame is strong and effective. Underneath she plays like a bigger player and always seems to get her shot off in heavy traffic. I still can see her last second winning fall-away jumper that beat the Cardinal in Maples a couple of seasons ago. What Baylor and Louisville learned is you let the Sun Devils hang around at your peril. They both almost got knocked off.

Ekmark is their shooter and when she gets hot - she'll show you how hot it can get down in the desert. If we play defense like we did Sunday afternoon in the first half against the Bruins  - we'll get scorched. Our defense needs to get much more intense - soon - or we could have a bunch of nasty jolts up the road in conference play. Every PAC12 team can beat you this season, if you rest on defense.

Then on Sunday afternoon we take on the Wildcats. You remember them - they used to be one of the sure-things on our schedule - a guaranteed "W." Well, those days are over - just ask the Sun Devils. Adia Barnes has transformed them and now they sound and fight like their mascot. Coach Barnes is an Arizona grad who scored over 2200 points for the Wildcats in the 90's and then went on to win a championship in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm.

Since arriving back in Tucson in 2016, Adia has had one highly ranked recruiting class after another and is in the process of building a national contender. Right now they're 12 and 2. Their roster is loaded with four and five star talent, but the transcendent star this year is Aari McDonald. She's one of the leading scorers in the nation at 25.4 points per game. Their leading rebounder at 8.5 per game is Cate Reese, a 6'-2" sophomore out of Cypress, Texas - the same suburb of Houston that is home to the Ogwumikes.

The PAC-12 is being transformed - Corey Close, Scott Rueck, Lindsay Gottlieb, Kelly Graves, and now Adia Barnes. You and I get to watch the transformation. It used to be the nowhereland of women's basketball out on the wrong coast. Then came Tara. Then Charlie. During the NCAA tournament two years ago you could sense the shock and awe gripping the eastern sports writers and commentators - as the usual high seeds got whipped - one after another by PAC-12 teams - Maryland went down, Duke went down, Texas, then Notre Dame. ASU lost to South Carolina, the eventual champs, by two. You could sense the perceptions changing - the biased thinking, writing ,and seeding was ending. The rest of the country had better get used to it - the PAC-12 is just getting warmed up and we ain't even broke a sweat yet.

Be warned Cardinal fans. There are dangerous critters lurking down in the desert these days - and if you're not tough enough and don't shoot straight - they'll get ya.

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