Since GCU jumped up to the Division I level in 2013, many people called for Arizona State and GCU to match up in all sports, especially basketball. The Lopes and the Sun Devils are separated by 16 miles…just 21 minutes apart.
The men got their turn the last two years.
But, 2022-23 was time for the women to square off.
The “Battle for State Forty-Eight” absolutely lived up to the hype. 6,019 people packed into GCU Arena setting an all-time attendance record for the Lopes. The crowd wanted an exciting and competitive game between the Lopes and Sun Devils. And that’s exactly what they got.
After 10 lead changes throughout, ASU pulled away in the final few minutes of play to earn an 80-72 win.
Let’s take a look at how we got there.
Hot Like the Arizona Sun
These teams really know how to keep a crowd on the edge of their seats. The first quarter was all Sun Devils. Arizona State came out firing on all cylinders, finishing the period with 20 points. GCU stayed with them though, only down by eight going into the second quarter.
The second period saw the Lopes completely flip the script. Their infamous defense finally reared its head. Steal after steal, make after make, the Lopes began to catch up. By the end of the first half, the score was 32-31. The Sun Devils had lost their comfortable lead, and suddenly it was anyone’s game.
The Final Fight
The third quarter was when the Lopes began to put on a show. In a scoring barrage led by Naudia Evans and Tiarra Brown, GCU regained the lead and then some. They shot 56 percent from the field and a staggering 57 percent from behind the arc. Their defense was also still on fire. They were everywhere on that side of the ball. No ASU passing lane, shot, or dribble drive was safe. Going into the fourth, the score was 54-45 in favor of the hometown Lopes.
The momentum slowly began to shift in the final quarter of play. GCU’s shooting percentage dropped to 38 percent and they found themselves in foul trouble early on. For the Sun Devils, it was an entirely different story. Their shooting percentage shot up from 35 percent in the third to 50 percent in the fourth. They also, unlike GCU, made the vast majority of their free throws, which ended up being the difference maker. ASU slowly pulled away and GCU couldn’t keep up. And the Sun Devils got the win the first of the home-and-home agreement on the road.
“Look what this did for women’s basketball.” ?
— GCU Women's Basketball (@GCU_WBB) December 2, 2022
Skills of Skinner
I cannot in good faith finish this article without acknowledging the amazing performance by ASU starting guard Tyi Skinner. Going into Wednesday’s game, Skinner was averaging 19.2 points and had three games in a row in which she scored exactly 24 points. So, it was expected she would perform well. But, no one would have expected what we got.
In 34 minutes played, she finished with 29 points, three assists, and a steal and a rebound to round it out. It’s important to note that 15 of her points came at the free-throw line. But many of those free throws were clutch ones that kept the Sun Devils in the lead late. After watching her in person, I am convinced she is among the best guards in the country, and I am excited to see what the junior from Washington, D.C. does for the rest of the season.
Lopes Looking Forward
After a historic 5-0 start, the loss against ASU was the Lopes’ first loss of the season. There was certainly a lot to learn from this game and ways they can improve, but there were also a ton of highlights. GCU’s defense is amongst the best in the country statistically, but their performance against ASU proved they can also be dangerous on the other side of the floor. Five Lopes scored double-digit points, and during much of the game it seemed like they couldn’t miss a 3-pointer if they tried.
This game showed the WAC what they’re truly capable of against strong opponents. It will also be telling when SFA hosts the Sun Devils later this month to see how these top WAC contenders compare. Post-game, Coach Miller said they are taking it one game at a time, though, as they face the Roos of Kansas City on Saturday.