(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Three games into the 2015 Pac-12 season, a Herb Sendek-led Arizona State sat at 0-3 to begin conference play. Thirty-four games and one coaching staff overhaul later, the Sun Devils are in the exact same predicament as it prepares to host the Washington schools this weekend.
The Sun Devils are coming off two hotly-contested games against USC and UCLA, both of which featured slow starts, a late push and an eventual loss for ASU.
The 0-3 start to league play has ASU at the basement of the conference, but given the early state of the season, ASU head coach Bobby Hurley isn’t the least bit concerned.
“It’s such a competitive league,” Hurley said. “We played well (against UCLA), and even watching the game again, I’m more critical, and I thought we played well – a winning game against UCLA, and they’re talented. They hurt you in a lot of ways, but they’re no different than USC or Arizona or all these teams. There’s a reason why the conference is viewed as one of the best conferences in the country right now.”
A season ago, the Sun Devils started the Pac-12 season 0-4 and finished fifth in the standings. And while the roster features just five players from that team, the confidence that the Sun Devils can still make noise remains.
“There’s no clear-cut, number one seed in the Pac-12 right now, obviously,” junior forward Savon Goodman said. “Arizona has lost. USC has lost. So I think we got a good chance. We got a good chance to turn it around. We just have to take it game by game.”
Sun Devils prepping for top rebounder in the Pac-12
ASU’s first chance to snag its first Pac-12 win of the season comes Thursday when Washington State enters Wells Fargo Arena. The Cougars 9-6 record features a 7-point win over UCLA and, most recently, a four-point overtime loss to Washington.
More importantly, their roster features junior forward Josh Hawkinson, the leading rebounder in the Pac-12 (11.4 per game). Hawkinson posted 21 points and 20 rebounds in the Cougars’ loss to Washington, and his 17.2 points per game ranks fourth in the conference.
“He (Hawkinson) works hard for position, and he’s smart,” Hurley said. “(He) knows how to use his body down there, and he’s so big, and he knows how to use it, and he’s not soft, so he’s skilled. He’s got a lot of things going for him.”
At 6-foot-10, Hawkinson will present an obvious challenge to ASU’s thin front line. In ASU’s loss to UCLA, Bruin senior forward Tony Parker and sophomore forward Thomas Welsh had their way down low, grabbed eight and 16 rebounds, respectively. When the two were on the floor, they grabbed 54.9 percent of the rebounds available.
When asked what makes Hawkinson so good, Goodman’s answer was simple:
“He’s (Hawkinson) leading the Pac-12 in rebounds,” he said. “That speaks for itself.”
Hurley won’t hold Holder back
Sophomore guard Tra Holder has put together four-consecutive games of at least 20 points, and he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. In Pac-12 play, Holder is averaging 23.7 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting and an eye-popping 55.6 percent from beyond the arc.
While this high-level of play from Holder hasn’t translated into conference wins just yet, Hurley won’t be trying to change anything about his point guard any time soon.
“I’m not going to hold him (Holder) back from playing well,” Hurley said. “I’m not going to say, ‘You know, 26 (points) is too high for you, Tra. I need you around seven or eight.’ But I think other guys will follow suit and start picking it up a little more and get the balance that made us difficult to guard and gave us the success that we had.”
Savon Goodman searching for his rhythm
Since missing four games at the end of nonconference play for what Hurley deemed “personal reasons,” Goodman hasn’t yet returned to the double-double machine for the Sun Devils.
“I don’t think anyone realized just how tough it is to just come back and have that same gear that you had,” Goodman said. “(I’m) just trying to get back in game-shape, have that same energy.”
Before the absence, Goodman was averaging 12.4 points (60.9 percent shooting) and 7.9 rebounds. In the three games since returning, those averages have dropped to 4.3 points (31.6 percent shooting) and 4.3 rebounds. However, Goodman’s struggles haven’t been for a lack of trying to get back into his rhythm.
“I think it’s just all about keep being consistent,” Goodman said. “I think it just takes a breakout game, to be honest, and that’s what I’m banking on, and I’m banking on my teammates to pick me up. It’ll come.
Gerry Blakes looking to step up on offense
Only two Sun Devils are averaging double-digit field goal attempts in conference play: Holder and senior guard Gerry Blakes. However, Blakes is shooting just 40 percent from the field and an abysmal 7.1 percent from three-point land. To his credit, he is often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s strongest perimeter scorer, and chasing around top-tier guards logically diminishes energy left for offense.
While he hasn’t quite found his shooting stroke, Blakes remains one of the best finishers on the team, shooting 68.8 percent inside the three-point arc in Pac-12 play. Still yet, Hurley is expecting a little more from his senior shooting guard.
“I want him (Blakes) to put pressure on himself to make shots when he’s open,” Hurley said. “He’s capable of doing it. He’s put the work in. He’s got to trust it, and he’s got to deliver. It’s OK to put pressure on yourself and say, ‘Hey, I know that you’re capable of doing this. You know you can do it. Let’s step up.’”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org