TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb tried all sorts of practice ploys, hoping her team would start making free throws and stop missing layups.
In the end, it didn’t help much.
Marqu’es Webb scored 18 points, but the eighth-seeded Commodores lost 69-61 to ninth-seeded Arizona State on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Vanderbilt shot 14 of 27 from the free-throw line.
“We counted layups in practice the other day, and I had them run for missed layups because we’re doing the same thing in practice,” Balcomb said. “If they made free throws, then they were allowed to knock off the sprints. I’ve been messing with their head, I’ve been trying to figure it out, but this is a consistent problem down the stretch.”
Katie Hempen scored 16 points for Arizona State, which had more than enough balance and depth to overcome foul trouble to a couple of key players. The Sun Devils (23-9) shot 62 percent to win this matchup between two teams that struggled coming into this tournament. Arizona State had lost three in a row and six of eight. Vanderbilt’s loss Saturday was its fifth straight and 10th in 12 games.
Vanderbilt (18-13) was making its 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance and had lost in the first round only once in the previous 11 years. The Commodores might have pulled this one out, but they couldn’t take advantage of Arizona State’s foul trouble. The first 23 free throws of the game were attempted by Vanderbilt – the Sun Devils didn’t shoot any until the last 1:40, finishing 5 of 9.
Webb overpowered Arizona State inside, and senior star Christina Foggie added 16 points.
“All year, everyone’s been telling me to just shoot the ball,” Webb, a freshman, said with a laugh. “They’ve had trust and belief in me the whole season.”
Deja Mann, Arizona State’s leading scorer, did not attempt a shot in the first half and finished with only eight points. It didn’t matter.
Neither did the 19 turnovers by the Sun Devils.
“This is what we’ve done all year long, is we’ve been able to score well,” Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “It has offset turnovers, or not rebounding as well as we need to.”
Hempen scored 12 points in the first half, making all four of her 3-point attempts, and Arizona State led 30-24 at halftime. Mann had played only six minutes to that point and had three fouls, but when Vandy made a brief run at the start of the second half, Mann made a pair of 3-pointers with the shot clock running down.
A jumper from just inside the arc by Hempen made it 54-45, and the Sun Devils held on from there.
Arizona State used 11 players, and they were all in for at least six minutes. The Sun Devils shot 67 percent from the field in the second half.
“If we get tired and pull on our jerseys and say we need a sub, we know the next person coming in is going to do the exact same thing we do,” Hempen said. “I think that gives us confidence.”
Foggie, Vandy’s career leader in 3-pointers, went 4 of 11 from the field and 2 of 6 from long distance. Webb kept the Commodores in the game, but Vandy couldn’t match Arizona State’s diverse offensive performance.
Mann and Joy Burke, two starters, played only 27 minutes combined for the Sun Devils because of foul trouble. Sophie Brunner, who like Hempen came off the bench, scored 14 points.
This was the first appearance in the NCAA tournament for the Sun Devils since 2011. Turner Thorne went on a one-season sabbatical after that.