(Photo: Alexis Ramanjulu/WCSN)
For Arizona State to slide up into the fifth seed for the Pac-12 tournament, the Sun Devils would have to win both games against the Bay Area schools, and Stanford would have to lose not only to ASU, but to Arizona as well. With Arizona rolling the way they are, ASU had its own destiny in control.
Momentum is something this Sun Devil team has ridden all year long, which is clear when looking at their record at Wells Fargo Arena. They’ve won 13 of their 15 games in Tempe, and after tonight it became 14, bringing them one step closer to that five seed.
The first half saw plenty of tide-turning plays, all starting with the putback dunk by sophomore forward Savon Goodman over Stanford’s senior center Stefan Nastic. Goodman rose up and grabbed a missed shot by junior guard Gerry Blakes, and slammed it home over the defender who is five inches taller.
That dunk was followed by another layup from Goodman, a three pointer from freshman guard Tra Holder, and then an absurd no-look layup drawing a foul for senior forward Shaquielle McKissic.“I kind of gambled on defense, and I knew coaches were going to be on my case so I knew I had to run the lane hard,” McKissic said. “I was surprised Tra (Holder) gave it to me, and I looked at (Anthony) Brown and he kind of bumped me, and it was a hard shot but it was just one of things where that was lucky I guess.”
On McKissic’s free throw to get him the old fashioned three-point play, the ball bounced off the rim, then hit the top of the backboard, and somehow found its way into the basket.
“The free throw was a tad bit lucky, but it got me going,” said McKisic.
Although there were no highlight dunks from McKissic in this game, the senior forward had one of the best games of his career in his second-to-last appearance at Wells Fargo Arena. Throughout the night, whenever Stanford began to sneak back into the game, McKissic found a way to get a basket in the paint.
“I always encourage Shaq to take it to the basket,” ASU head coach Herb Sendek said. “The thing about our offense, man or zone, it doesn’t matter, we do what we do, and Shaq is always best when he’s able to get in the paint and make some things happen and he had some great drives there in the second half.”
McKissic’s 23 points and 7 rebounds were both team highs, and he was virtually unstoppable going to the rim all night long. He made his last four shot attempts and also had a crucial steal in the final minute to seal the victory for the Sun Devils.
“I was watching the film from last game, and I could just tell how timid I was driving the ball and we needed this win tonight,” McKissic said. “Just like we need every win from here on out.”
His night couldn’t have gone any better, while on the other end, Satnford’s three seniors Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Stefan Nastic didn’t have their best game.
“They’ve got three prolific scorers,” Sendek said. “I mean three guys who can literally single-handedly one at a time dismantle a defense, and they command tremendous respect and attention.”
Randle, who is the second-leading scorer in the Pac-12, was someone Sendek worried about coming in.
“Not let (Randle) even shoot, because every time he shoots I think it’s going in,” Sendek said.
This momentum that seems to only show up during home games made a huge impact on the game all night long. Sendek was the most energized he has been all season, and for good reason.
“I thought (passion) was what our team needed tonight,” Sendek said. “I wanted the fans to appreciate the effort our guys were giving, give us the best home court possible, and you’re right I was (passionate). I need a shower.”
Wells Fargo Arena was filled with energy. The bench was fired up, Sendek showed off a different side to him getting the crowd into the game with his energy on the sideline, and just like most games as of late, the students were involved as well.
“I would be remissed if I didn’t personally thank the students on behalf of our entire team and program,” Sendek said. “Are you kidding me? For a nine o’clock game, well I guess that’s early for students, they were outstanding, are you kidding me? I mean the 942 Crew is redefining student attendance at Sun Devil basketball games.”
Despite the magnitude of this victory moving closer and closer to the tournament, Sendek insists that where they end up seeding-wise is not the most important factor in deciding how the Sun Devils will end the season.
“Our seed is irrelevant,” Sendek said. “I don’t even want to look at those standings, I want to focus on Cal. We know we have a game on Wednesday, we know we’re not getting a bye, we’ll be there to play whoever our seed tells us to play.”