(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
With the Pac-12 tournament about a month away, it’s getting down to crunch time for Arizona State, who sits at a measly 3-8 in conference play – good enough for 11th in the conference standings. Seven games remain on ASU’s schedule, and the hopes for a late-surge begin with hosting No. 23 USC.
The Trojans took down ASU in the Galen Center 75-65 and controlled most of the game. ASU shot an abysmal 38.2 percent and shot 7-of-25 from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Tra Holder led the way with 21 points, but for the most part, ASU struggled. The 65 points scored were the third-lowest total of the season.
On the flip side, USC did what it has done all season – score in balanced bunches. Junior guard Julian Jacobs spearheaded the offense with 15 points as the Trojans shot 49.1 percent.
The Trojans feature six players who average double-digit points. Sophomore Jordan McLaughlin, redshirt junior Katin Reinhardt and Jacobs combine to average 37.4 points per game and are one of the top backcourts in the conference. Sophomore guard Elijah Stewart lands in the top-5 in three-point shooting at 44 percent.
Additionally, USC freshman forward Bennie Boatwright provides a great matchup issue for the Sun Devils. At 6-foot-10, Boatwright is a versatile as any forward in the country, averaging 12.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point land. He comes in the same offensive mold as Oregon’s Chris Boucher, who torched ASU for 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks.
Keys to the game
ASU has launched more three pointers in conference play than any other team in the Pac-12, and the Trojans have held opponents to 29.5 shooting from three in the conference season. With that in mind, ASU would be wise to be selective and patient in its offensive sets. The Sun Devils need to get into their offense quickly and provide quality looks from beyond the arc, not just chucking from deep when it is convenient.
At its best, ASU rotates and reverses the ball with the post players getting a touch that forces the opposing defense to swarm and rotate. Of course, if it were that easy, ASU would have a better conference record. Nonetheless, sophomore guard Kodi Justice scored a measly two points in ASU’s first contest against USC, and senior guard Gerry Blakes tallied eight points. Both are playing much better offensively of late, and to keep up with USC’s up-and-down style of play, perimeter shooting will naturally become a key.
Who guards who?
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley has expressed his desire for his team to be able to guard the guys at their position straight up, and it has come with mixed results. Holder limited Oregon State’s all-conference guard Gary Payton II to two points and Washington’s senior guard Andrew Andrews to 13 points on 2-of-13 shooting. However, Washington’s freshman guard Dejonte Murray exploded for 34 points and 11 rebounds while being primarily guarded by Blakes, who has been ASU’s go-to stopper on the perimeter.
In short, USC has weapons galore on the perimeter, and with Boatright demanding the attention of a post-player, senior center Eric Jacobsen could find himself in no-man’s land once again. Already a thin roster, finding a way to get Jacobsen into the lineup for his rebounding and passing ability in the post while finding a spot for him on the defensive end will be a critical component in ASU’s matchup.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org