ASU hopes to stomach challenge at Texas

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Charli Turner Thorne was a graduate assistant coach at the University of Washington when the Huskies played Texas in Austin in the late 1980s. It was not a pleasant experience.

"I just remember we needed trash cans at the corner of the court because we had two kids with the stomach flu," said Turner Thorne, back again as the head coach at Arizona State.

"I remember (star center) Amy Mickelson having to go to the trash can during the game and throw up."

Because the NCAA still permits the top 16 teams to play at home in the first two rounds of the national tournament, Arizona State could not be blamed for feeling a little uneasy 30 years later.

The Sun Devils will face extra obstacle in the second round of the Kansas City Regional -- a true road game against second-seeded and No. 8 Texas, which is hosting the first round for the third straight season. All ended with a trip to the Sweet 16.

"With Texas, it's hard to find any chinks in their armor," Turner Thorne said. "They're an incredibly talented team. They play fast. Great transition team. Great rebounding. Good depth, obviously led by their senior back court. It's very, very formidable. But we're excited. We've played this level of competition day-in and day-out in the Pac-12, so it should be fun."

Texas (27-6) dispatched Maine 83-54 in a first-round game Saturday after seventh-seeded Arizona State (22-12) advanced with a 73-62 victory over Nebraska, pulling away late in the third quarter with an 18-4 run.

Texas got 17 points from 6-foot-4 center Jatarie White and had a 27-point lead at halftime while winning for the 12th time in 14 games. The Longhorns' only losses in that stretch were to Baylor, which won all three games in the season series. Texas' other losses were to No. 1 UConn, No. 12 Tennessee and TCU.

"I think we're similar teams," Texas coach Karen Aston said regarding Arizona State. "We have some bigs that can score. We have some guards that can shoot the ball.

"So this is going to boil down to some real intangibles. Who does the dirty things? Who gets the loose balls? Who boxes out? Free throws will probably come into play. I would expect this will be a game that the 50-50 stuff comes into play."

Both the Longhorns and Sun Devils had massive rebounding advantages in their first-round victories, which adds a subplot. The winner will advance to a March 23 game against the winner of the UCLA-Creighton game.

Maine did not have a rebound in the first eight minutes as Texas took a 23-8 lead after the first quarter. Six-3 Joyner Holmes and 5-4 Brooke McCarty had seven rebounds apiece and the Longhorns finished with a whopping 43-12 edge on the boards. Ariel Atkins had 16 points and Lashann Higgs had 15.

"That was one of the things that we actually had on the board (in the locker room)," Higgs said. "It was like 'rebound,' with an exclamation mark. It's a mentality that we have to go into the next game with because they're definitely a physical team."

The Sun Devils had a 49-27 rebounding edge against Nebraska, including 21 offensive rebounds, five by UConn transfer Courtney Ekmark. Kianna Ibis had 14 points and eight rebounds, 6-3 center Charnea Johnson-Chapman had 10 rebounds and two steals and guard Robbi Ryan had 16 points and four rebounds,

Rebounding was emphasized in practice in the last week, after the Sun Devils upset No. 10 Oregon State 57-51 in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament.

"We hold ourselves accountable on the break," Turner Thorne said, "so if anybody didn't hit a rebounding spot or missed a box out, the entire team did five push-ups. We did a lot of push-ups this last week and a half.

"I actually joked in the locker room (Saturday), 'Hey, if you miss a box out don't get down on the floor and start doing push-ups during the game.' Certainly it's always a focus in our program, and obviously when you control the board, you control the game."

For the Sun Devils, who have won at least one game in 11 of their last 12 NCAA appearances, playing in a hostile NCAA environment is nothing new.

They took eventual national champion South Carolina into the final seconds before losing 71-68 in the second round in Columbia, S.C., last season. ASU missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"It obviously came down to one possession, with the missed box out," Turner Thorne said. "But we just came back, we grouped, and we're here again. Robbi made a good comment yesterday. She's like, 'It just made us hungry.'"