The sheer wattage of the smile on Arizona State guard Reili Richardson’s face as she jumped into teammate Robbi Ryan’s arms at the end of Sunday’s game against No. 3 Oregon State offered convincing indication of just how good a weekend it was for the Sun Devils.
So does knowing that Richardson, according to her coach, found the energy to celebrate after she had also played against No. 2 Oregon two days earlier with a 102 degree temperature.
Even the flu, it turns out, was no match for one of the greatest weekends in Division I history.
And in the moments after the unranked Sun Devils won their second game in less than 48 hours against a team otherwise poised to take over the No. 1 ranking, senior Ja’Tavia Tapley stood in the center of the team huddle and led the cheers in Tempe.
It was the first time all weekend that Tapley allowed herself be the undisputed center of attention. But even in an ensemble cast that earns its curtain calls with defense more often than not, there was no one more instrumental to a collective performances for the ages.
It’s why she is the espnW player of the week after totaling 16 points and six rebounds in a 72-66 win against the Ducks and 14 points and six rebounds in a 55-47 win against the Beavers.
There is plenty of historical context for the scale of what Arizona State managed in beating the No. 2 and No. 3 teams, opponents that entered those games with a combined 27-1 record. Something like it might happen occasionally in the Final Four, but it hadn’t happened in the regular season since 2010 — when Stanford beat No. 4 Xavier and No. 1 UConn in a three-day span — and certainly not by an unranked team. But who needs history to be our guide? Consider all the remarkable events that Arizona State managed to overshadow in the present alone.
No. 6 Baylor ended No. 1 UConn’s 98-game home winning streak on Thursday, then kept its focus in routing Oklahoma State. So good when she put up a double-double against the Huskies, NaLyssa Smith totaled 30 points and 15 rebounds against the Cowgirls. And that neither UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Adodo nor Oklahoma State’s Natasha Mack made much noise this week tells you all you need to know about the kind of defense Baylor’s Lauren Cox played.
Thursday also saw No. 9 NC State, No. 10 Texas A&M, No. 11 Florida, No. 17 Maryland and No. 24 Michigan lose against unranked opponents.
Heck, even after Arizona State wrapped up its weekend sweep, Iowa’s Kathleen Doyle put up 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in a double-overtime win against No. 12 Indiana. She almost out-Ionescu-ed the Oregon guard who recorded her 22nd career triple-double the same day. And that after Doyle scored 21 points in the win against the Terrapins earlier in the week.
All of it was amazing. Any of it would have assured the various protagonists player-of-the-week honors in something resembling a normal week. None of it matched what the Sun Devils did in beating two teams that hadn’t lost a game all season on the U.S. mainland.
Arizona State isn’t a program built for individual accolades. There have probably been Arizona Coyotes coaches less associated with line changes than Sun Devils boss Charli Turner Thorne. No one on the current roster averages more than 25 minutes per game. That’s the norm.
Tapley is the only player this season who averages double-digit points, and even her 11.9 points per game wouldn’t lead any other team in the Pac-12. But the graduate transfer from USC who suffered through an 0-5 record against Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State a season ago made all the difference in the world over the weekend.
The numbers don’t jump off the page, but that’s how Arizona State prefers it.
Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard ranks fourth in the conference in scoring. Tapley outscored her.
Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec leads the conference in scoring. Tapley outscored her.
She scored the majority of her points against the Ducks in the first half on Friday, but that was when the Sun Devils needed them most. As it was, Oregon led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter. Without Tapley, there might not have been a game for Richardson and Robbi to steal away in a fourth quarter that saw the Sun Devils outscore the Ducks 30-14.
And Tapley had a big hand in ensuring Arizona State didn’t suffer the same fate as Oregon when the host watched a big lead slip away against Oregon State in the fourth quarter Sunday.
After the Beavers erased a 12-point second-half deficit and tied the score with a little more than two minutes to play, Ryan restored a Sun Devils lead. But Ryan then fouled out on the ensuing inbounds play, a sequence that necessitated a lengthy video review. When the game finally resumed, Tapley tipped away a pass from Pivec to create a turnover on the defensive end, then drove from the elbow and finished in traffic at the other end.
Those 15 seconds settled the game.
Then again, it doesn’t necessarily take long to change a game. Or to change a season.
Tapley and Arizona State only needed a weekend.
Also considered: Te’a Cooper, Baylor; Lauren Cox, Baylor; Kathleen Doyle, Iowa; Rhyne Howard, Kentucky; Selena Lott, Marquette; Chelsey Perry, UT-Martin; NaLyssa Smith, Baylor
Previous winners: Rhyne Howard, Kentucky (Jan. 6); Kaila Charles, Maryland (Dec. 30); Charli Collier, Texas (Dec. 23); Ashley Joens, Iowa State (Dec. 16); Megan Walker, UConn (Dec. 9); Dana Evans, Louisville (Dec. 2); Jaelyn Brown, Cal (Nov. 25); Aari McDonald, Arizona (Nov. 18); Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Nov. 11)