(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After an uptempo and even first half, a demoralized ASU squad unraveled in the second half, falling to the Cal Golden Bears 81-65.
Both teams came out of the gate firing, as Obinna Oleka hit the first three for the Sun Devils to open up the scoring, and on the other end, Grant Mullins answered right back, seemingly setting the tone for how the rest of the first half would play out simply in the first minute.
6’11’’ sophomore Ivan Rabb hit his first two three pointers of the game, and of the season as well. Rabb had 16 of Cal’s first 23 points in the game, dominating every single aspect.
For the Sun Devils, they were glad to accept the bang-bang pace, as they proceeded to play their own game. After a few ill-advised turnovers from Tra Holder, the Sun Devil spark plug in Torian Graham hit a free-throw line jumper, got a steal on the next possession and threw one down in transition. At the under-12 timeout, Cal lead by one, 18-17.
It was clear that the size disadvantage was a hinderance to ASU in the first half, as Rabb was dominating the post, with three of his first eight boards coming on the offensive glass, and a double-double to boot in the first 20. The Sun Devils would consistently attempt to double from the weak-side, usually trying to bring Justice across the court, but that only opened up the perimeter for the potentially dangerous Golden Bear guards. Mullins hit his second three of the game from a dish from Rabb, and in the following possession, was able to take it to the hoop with the big men cleared out, giving Cal the lead 35-31 at the four minute mark before hitting a cold stretch, allowing the Sun Devils to tie it back up again.
Interestingly enough, the three-pointer was not the saviour, as it has been all season for the Sun Devils. Oleka had three triples, and the Sun Devils only had seven total. Cal, not known for their perimeter game, had seven in the first half alone. It was the transition buckets that helped ASU hang around, as ASU had nine points off turnovers, whilst Cal did not have a single point in the first half.
If the first half was any indication, the second followed suit just as well at the start. Neither team had an empty possession in the first two minutes until Sam Singer committed an offensive foul, giving him three in limited minutes. Singer was essentially a non-factor on the offensive end, a welcome surprise after he demolished the Sun Devils last year.
Tra Holder intercepted an errant cross-court pass to take the lead 43-42, but once again, Grant Mullins had the answer. Two possessions later, he hit one from the corner, giving him 1000 career points, and giving Cal a two-point lead with 16 left to play. Mullins finished the game with 20 points on 7-10 shooting, including five treys.
The points for ASU were coming from the attack, in transition as well from sets. Kodi Justice had a pair of consecutive deuces on the inside, pulling ASU within one at the 13 minute mark, but that was as close as it would get.
ASU went ice cold, missing their next seven field goals before a Tra Holder layup made it a one possession game midway through the half. Eventually, coach Hurley moved away from the larger lineup he had been boasting throughout the half featuring Vila and Tshisumpa together before going back to the starters to attempt to rejuvenate the Sun Devils.
With seven minutes to play, trailing by one, the Sun Devils were held without a field goal for over eight minutes down the stretch, with six points in a row coming from the stripe.
An emphatic Jabari Bird dunk at the five minute mark brought Cal to a 63-61 lead, bringing the Berkeley crowd to an uproar, sensing the wavering ASU team, and then Okoroh brought the hammer on the next possession, following it up with a block and transition layup for Singer.
ASU only hit one field goal in the final nine minutes of play, and a 16-2 run put Cal up by 12 and sealed the deal for the Golden Bears.
ASU moved to 8-7 on the season as they now prepare to head home to take on the mountain teams later on this week.