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Undefeated Notre Dame separates Arizona State from the Sweet 16

Senior guard Deja Mann will try to lead ASU to the Sweet 16 with a win Monday.
Senior guard Deja Mann will try to lead ASU to the Sweet 16 with a win Monday.
Scott Mammoser

In defeating Vanderbilt Saturday, Arizona State won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since beating Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 five year ago. The next stop for that team was undefeated and eventual champion Connecticut, and its reward this year – another team with a perfect record – Notre Dame.

The ninth-seeded Sun Devils (23-9) will try to be the fist team to figure out the top-seeded Irish (33-0) at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 p.m. PT, ESPN2) Monday at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio.

As a No. 5 seed, ASU defeated No. 4 Notre Dame, 70-61, in the second round of the 2005 Tournament, overcoming a 13-point deficit in Fresno, Calif.

“We take every play possession by possession, and our motto is next play,” said ASU guard Katie Hempen, who scored 16 points in the first round win. “We know if we score, we need to get a stop, but when it comes to if they score, it doesn’t affect us. We know we can get it back down, score again and get another defensive stop.”

While nearly half of Vanderbilt’s offense went through senior guards Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister this year, ASU’s seven leading scorers all average between seven and 11 points, led with senior guard Deja Mann’s 11 per game.

“The way she (ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne) rotates in player after player wears on you as much as three point shots, it gets in your gut,” Commodores coach Melanie Balcomb said.

The depth is also the biggest concern for Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who won the national title in 2001 and is seeking her fourth-consecutive Final Four.

“ASU is a team that is so balanced, you can’t key on one person,” McGraw said. “It seems like in the ACC, we always say you have to guard these players or this person in particular, but with that team everyone is good. Nobody can afford to let their guard down for a minute, so we’ve got to really be focused. Everybody’s man can score and do some things who can hurt us, when you’re trying to learn 10 people, it’s a little bit tougher than one or two.”

Sophomore Jewell Loyd leads the Irish with 18.5 points per game, followed by ACC Player of the Year Kayla McBride (17.5) and Natalie Achonwa (14.1 ppg), who averages a team-best 7.4 rebounds.

In the first round win over Robert Morris Saturday, sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey came off the bench to score a game-high 16, connecting on four-of-five from long range, and junior Madison Cable also scored 13 with three threes as a reserve.

“The last couple of days we’ve been playing each other, and it is always competitive,” Mabrey said. “I think that’s what makes our bench very good. We don’t take each other lightly, and I think that’s really helped us down the road in games.”

The Sun Devils were 3-0 against ACC teams this season, defeating Miami, plus North Carolina and Syracuse, who have both advanced to the second round of the Tournament. Notre Dame was 2-0 against the Pacific-12, winning at Oregon State by 12 and versus UCLA by 42. Wins over Maryland by four, Virginia by seven and Penn State by 10 were its closest games.

Expected to be down a notch with the graduation of Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame was No. 6 in the preseason poll. Unheralded in November, the Sun Devils were ranked as high as No. 11 on Feb. 10 before a late-season slide.

“After going most of our conference season ranked and having a target on our back, I think we got everybody’s best effort,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said.