(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Not much went right for the Arizona State Sun Devils as they took on No. 8 Utah. ASU struggled on both ends of the court and fell to the Utes, 75-59.
The Sun Devils were downright anemic from anywhere further than five feet from the basket in the first half, starting the game 0-for-15 on jump shots (0-for-8 from beyond the arc) before freshman guard Kodi Justice knocked in a pull-up three with just less than three minutes remaining in the first half.
Utah came into the matchup ranked eighth in the country in field-goal percentage (50.1 percent) and in scoring defense (55.1 points per game). The Utes utilized their defense to pull away from ASU late in the first half, holding the Sun Devils scoreless for a five-minute stretch.
“A couple guys missed a couple perimeter shots and a couple tip-ins around the rim that we usually make every day in practice and in other games,” sophomore forward Savon Goodman said. “But every game isn’t going to be perfect, so we got to just put that behind us and move on to the next game.”
To amend his team’s struggles, ASU head coach Herb Sendek played with a bevy of lineups, inserting freshman guard Tra Holder back into the starting five after electing to go with junior guard Roosevelt Scott to play in the backcourt alongside junior guard Gerry Blakes.
In addition to Holder, Justice saw significantly more playing time than the last few games, but only contributed three points and three assists, one of which being a nice alley-oop to Goodman. Junior forward Sai Tummala also saw minutes as ASU struggled from the perimeter.
Hampered by foul trouble, Sendek even played around with a small-ball lineup that consisted of Jonathan Gilling, Bo Barnes, Goodman, Blakes and Scott for a short stretch in the first half, but the lack of rebounding and offensive flow ended that experiment quickly.
For Utah, senior Delon Wright led the way. After a quiet, 1-for-4 start from the field, Wright eventually found his groove, tallying 21 points and six assists. Wright, who was named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 this week, also made his presence felt on defense, pressuring the ASU backcourt and coming away with two steals, a category in which he ranked 15th in the country coming into the game.
As a team, the Utes shot 53.7 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from beyond the arc.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to be a better and more consistent half court-defensive team,” Sendek said. “I thought (Utah) was more physical tonight.”
The 0-4 start to the conference schedule is almost a side-note when watching the Sun Devils. Offensively, there’s a lack of an identity. At times, feeding the ball to Jacobsen and Goodman seems to be their calling card, and at other times, ASU’s platoon of athletic slashers open up passing lanes and point-blank shots.
Sendek mentioned that he had to get on his players to stop passing up good looks at the rim and to be more aggressive at halftime and the various media timeouts.
However, none of those themes have been a consistent factor on offense and it seems as though a different ASU squad takes the floor from game-to-game.
“I wouldn’t say (the losing) is taking a toll, but it’s definitely bothering some,” Goodman said. “Who doesn’t want to win? Everybody in our locker room right now wants to win.”
The one silver lining from tonight was their on-ball defense on Delon Wright. With Blakes on him for the majority of the game, Wright was just 4-for-11 from the field, picking up most of his points from the free throw-line, where he went a perfect 12-for-12.
If it wasn’t already there, the pressure to make some sort of run toward a postseason campaign is mounting heavily on ASU, and the path gets anything but easier as they welcome Colorado on Saturday. If the Sun Devils fall to the Buffaloes, dropping to 0-5 in the Pac-12, it’ll take an effort just short of running the table to even possibly make a bid to a postseason tournament.
“My job is to lead and to teach,” Sendek said. “And right now, in many ways, it’s more challenging to do that than when things are going your way, but because my greater mission is to lead and to teach, I’ll stay focused on that, and we’ll just keep honoring the process.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org