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ASU hopes bench presses No. 1 UConn

TRENTON, N.J. -- There is no truth to the rumor that the Grand Canyon got its start as the small patch of ground in front of the scorer's table at Arizona State. But give Charli Turner Thorne another decade or two in Tempe and her Sun Devils might just wear away the wood near midcourt at Wells Fargo Arena enough to create a cavern of their own.

Arizona State faces long odds in its regional final against top-seeded and unbeaten Connecticut on Tuesday night (ESPN, 7 ET). But at least the underdog comes in armed with a stone in its sling -- or nine or 10 stones, as the case may be. It sometimes seems that playing six or seven players at once would be the only way to realistically slow the Huskies, but even if she can only use five of her own at any one time, Turner Thorne's unique bench might be the next best thing.

"I don't know whether they play like that all year long, or whether they're just doing it because they're in a hockey arena, but they look like a hockey team," Geno Auriemma said. "They just send you out for two or three minutes, play your shift and then they bring another group in and try to wear you out. It is kind of unusual, but I think it's effective, if you let it be effective. It's going to be a challenge for us, because we don't have a deep bench."

In beating No. 2 seed Texas A&M 84-69 to advance to Tuesday's game, nine Arizona State players logged double-digit minutes -- eight of those spent between 17 and 26 minutes on the court. And in beating Georgia and Florida State just to reach Trenton, only two Sun Devils -- Briann January and Kate Engelbrecht -- played as many as 30 minutes in a game. By way of comparison, when Connecticut beat California by 24 points in Sunday's first regional semifinal, three of its players played 37-plus minutes.

In fact, despite winning their fair share of blowouts, only once in the first three rounds did any of the other seven remaining teams in the NCAA tournament play an entire game without one player logging at least 30 minutes on the court (Stanford in its 74-39 opening-round win against UC Santa Barbara). All told, those same seven teams combined for 58 instances of a player spending at least 30 minutes in a game.

Yet Arizona State is the supposedly short-handed team that lost its leading scorer, Dymond Simon, to a season-ending injury in the final game of the regular season.

"In this tournament, they've emptied out, they're emptying out completely," said Arizona State associate coach Meg Sanders, who also coached with Turner Thorne at Northern Arizona. "And I think prior to that, we had moments like that, but we're playing 40 minutes of all-out defense and all-out effort on offense. And putting that together on both ends of the floor has just made this group special. It's very tough to do, and the fact that we play a lot of people allows us to do that and be successful."

This inclination to share the wealth (or the misery, depending on whether you're playing for or against them) isn't a new development. No Arizona State player has averaged 30 minutes per game over the course of a full season since Natalie Tucker in the 1999-2000 season, Turner Thorne's fourth at the school. Through the initial rebuilding years, through three WNIT appearances in four seasons and on into the heady present of two regional final appearances in the past three seasons, the steady procession of players has continued unabated in its commute from the bench to the scorer's table.

"I like it," Engelbrecht said of the time-sharing arrangement. "I like being able to just go out there and not save anything and know that we have the depth on our bench and everyone can come in and make a big play. It's good, and you definitely have to trust your teammates that they're going to go in and do the same thing when you go out."

With Symon out, January is the team's unquestioned core, emotionally and statistically. But when it comes to playing time, even she's just another cog. An ankle injury she picked up against Florida State might have played a minor role in ensuring she got normal rest against the Aggies, but in truth, it's what the players are used to -- even the star.

"I would say by second year on the team, you're used to how it works," Engelbrecht said. "And practice is the same way as the games for us, constantly rotating and everyone is in and out. So you get pretty used to it. And once you're in the game, you are expecting that sub because you're working so hard. So as long as you're working hard, you're ready to come out and get that quick blow and go back in."

One of those players in her second year on the court is Sybil Dosty, a transfer from Tennessee and the team's leading rebounder. In one pivotal sequence in the second half against Texas A&M, shortly after the Aggies had cut the Sun Devils' lead to two points, Dosty followed up a 3-pointer from teammate Danielle Orsillo by blocking back-to-back shots and drawing a foul to regain possession. Then, like clockwork, Orsillo, Dosty and January headed for the bench, as Engelbrecht, Nia Fanaika and Lauren Lacey entered.

"It gives you the mind-set that I'm going to go out there and push as hard as I can and I'm going to get a break right away," Dosty said. "So you don't save anything, and it's fun to play that way."

The Sun Devils made 64 substitutions against the Aggies. On two occasions they subbed in five players at once, four other times they subbed four players on a single horn blast.

That's significant for any team faced with confronting Connecticut. More often than not, the scoreboard necessitates that a team playing the Huskies shorten its bench and stick with its top six or seven players, sometimes far longer than they might be used to playing.

Whether Arizona State is ahead by two or behind by 20, Turner Thorne will stick to her substitutions, at the very least keeping the Sun Devils fresh deep into the game, when attrition usually begins to compound the task of slowing the relentless Huskies.

"When we recruit them, they know [the system]," Sanders said. "And when they experience it and they see that, 'Hey, I can push myself; I can go to exhaustion, because I know that if I'm doing that, I'm helping my team, I'm going to get a minute or two of rest and I'm going to be able to go right back in,' they don't pace themselves."

Perhaps it's no surprise that if any team was going to have enough energy left to make a postseason run, even if it was without one of its stars, it would be Arizona State. There is safety in numbers, after all, and for the Sun Devils, there is always someone waiting to pick up the slack.

Waiting at the end of that well-worn path to the scorer's table.

"It's pretty unbelievable at this point," Engelbrecht said. "I'm still kind of in shock that we've come this far together. We're just playing so well as a team, and it's so much fun -- looking in each other's eyes and we just see we want it more than the other team. It's really fun, and it's just the best experience I've had on this team."

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.