(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
With an overtime win against Stanford just barely in the rear view mirror, the Arizona State Sun Devils face a massive challenge against top-seeded Oregon in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday.
The Ducks (27-4, 16-2 in Pac-12) have dominated the season en route to consecutive conference titles. They’re led by junior forward Dillon Brooks, who earlier in the week took home Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. Brooks ranks 10th in the conference with 16 points per game on an efficient 52 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three.
Oregon is a very well-rounded squad that can counter ASU in many ways. The Ducks rank first in the conference at denying three-pointers, the Devils’ offensive weapon of choice. Oregon is also the top shot-blocking team in-conference, a tough reality for Arizona State, for which rim pressure by guards is key to what they do.
Despite the gap, the Sun Devils found a formula that nearly worked the last time these two teams met. ASU went into Matthew Knight Arena, a place no visitor had won in for over two years, and gave the Ducks quite a scare.
Brooks posted 27 points to lead his team, but ASU junior guard Shannon Evans one-upped him, leading ASU with 28. The Devils weren’t efficient offensively but managed to play some their best defense of the season.
Arizona State ultimately fell 71-70, but it held Oregon to 43 percent shooting and looked strong. Their clear-minded, game-focused approach may have helped them come so close.
“We don’t go into the game saying ‘We beat them so we can beat that team’,” junior guard Tra Holder said before the team’s last run-in with the Ducks. “Just us playing hard it gives us shots to be in any game and I think we’ve showed that in some spurts.”
That same mindset will be key for the Devils, whose core players approach or passed 40 minutes of work less than 24 hours ago. The Devils, especially senior forward Obinna Oleka, put in a lot of work to deal with a sizable Stanford squad.
The good news for ASU is that Oregon is not a grind-it-out, play-big kind of team either.
“They play similar to us,” Holder observed before the trip to Eugene. “They start out small and then they come out with bigs. Maybe that’ll work to our advantage because we play small. It’s gonna be a battle of a lot of guard play and things of that nature.”
The Ducks may not be at the size advantage that other teams are used to, but they’re fresher and the evidence suggests better. That said, ASU has been all about fighting this season. It’s paid off against Stanford (twice), Colorado, USC and others so far. The Devils just have to execute well and hope they have a little more of that luck left in them.
The game tips off at 1 p.m. Arizona time on Pac-12 Network.