(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Normally, a matchup between the 11th place and first place teams in the Pac-12 would produce predictions of a noncompetitive blowout for the latter. However, if the 2015-16 college basketball season has revealed anything, it is the fact that the Pac-12 is one of the deepest conferences in the country.
Any underdog has the opportunity to ruin the day for the favorite, and that is exactly the position Arizona State is in when No. 23 Oregon steps into Wells Fargo Arena.
ASU’s most recent 18-point victory over Oregon State might have been the most impressive of the weekend if not for Oregon beating No. 18 Arizona and ending the Wildcats’ 49-game winning streak in the McKale Center.
The Ducks were led by sophomore forward Dillon Brooks’ 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting.
On the season, Oregon features a balanced attack with four players averaging double-figures, led by Brooks’ 16.6 points contest.
With that in mind, ASU still played well against Oregon State, holding senior guard and Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Gary Payton II to a season-low two points. ASU sophomore guard Tra Holder spent the majority of his time guarding Payton, and while he only scored eight points, his effort on defense was key to ASU’s success.
The Sun Devils also received nice contributions from junior forward Obinna Oleka and senior guard Gerry Blakes who scored 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Keys the the game
Draw fouls on Oregon bigs
The Ducks boast two of the most intimidating shot blockers in the Pac-12 between sophomore forward Jordan Bell and senior forward Chris Boucher. Boucher currently leads the Pac-12 with 65 blocks while Bell set the Oregon record last season and is finding his groove after an early-season injury.
On the flip side, ASU has attempted the third-fewest free throws during conference play. The Sun Devils will have to either improve their 49.8 percent from inside the three-point arc or get to the rim and draw fouls on Bell and Boucher. However, ASU ranks last in free throws attempted during conference play and second-worst in free-throw percentage.
Knock down open threes
The Sun Devils float toward the top of the conference in three-pointers attempted but are near the bottom in terms of percentage. If Bell and Boucher begin to affect ASU’s attacks at the rim, it’ll have to rely on sharpshooting from the perimeter.
Although Holder had a quiet game against Oregon State, Blakes’ revival was a welcome sight for ASU head coach Bobby Hurley. Blakes’ 16 points was his most since the second game of the season in which he dropped 22 on Blemont.
After hitting only four threes during Pac-12 play, Blakes went 2-of-4 from beyond the arc against the Beavers, and ASU will need a similar output to takedown the Ducks.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org