Aided by a strong shooting performance and a commitment to defensive intensity, the Arizona State Sun Devils defeated the California Golden Bears 66-62 on Thursday night.
For the Sun Devils, the victory was their 18th tick in the win column in what is turning out to be a fantastic year.
Head coach Herb Sendek’s squad was picked to finish 11th overall in the Pac-12 conference, but the play of superstars Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix has ignited this Sun Devil team and they helped make it a contender for a postseason tournament berth.
As the statistical breakdown indicates, the win over California was not a typical game for this Sun Devil basketball team. However, a win is a win, and right now, Arizona State will take anything that raises its chances of sneaking into March Madness.
Arizona State shot 46.3 percent from the field, including a 15-for-30 mark in the first half. The Sun Devils took quality shots all night, and picked apart the Cal defense until the Golden Bears switched to a zone scheme late in the game.
Shooting guard Evan Gordon continued his second half dominance, as he led all scorers with 23 points. Gordon set the tone for the offense in the first half, as his 13 points and two 3-pointers helped the Sun Devils build a quality 10-point cushion at the break. A sharpshooting Gordon can break down a defense centered on stopping Carson and Felix, and that’s exactly what he did on Thursday.
Thursday was a must-win game for the Sun Devils, and by opening the game on a 25-9 run, Arizona State showed no signs of feeling the pressure. The Sun Devils looked cool, calm, and collected and that’s exactly how they’ve played in the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Arena all season long.
If it weren’t for Cal’s first half struggles, Arizona State could have lost this game on the basis of turning the ball over 17 times. Few teams deserve to win when committing such a high amount of turnovers, but the Sun Devils forced 18 from the Golden Bears and escaped. However, coach Sendek alluded to the troubling number in his postgame press conference, and maintained that better decision making with the basketball will be an emphasis for the maroon and gold.
Another disappointing theme emerged from Thursday’s game, and that was the lack of fireworks from Carson and Felix. By no means did either of these players turn in a bad game, but the Sun Devils have reached 18 wins primarily because of the outstanding play of their two stars.
Carson had 12 points and five assists, and distributed the ball well all night. However, he committed five turnovers and will have to correct that number on Saturday against Stanford.
As for Felix, the senior wing tallied just eight points and five rebounds, and did not play with the same energy Sun Devil fans are used to seeing from him. Coach Sendek assures that Felix is the leader of this team so one mediocre game won’t ruin his confidence.
Ruuuuus! Reserve center Ruslan Pateev turned in his best game of the season with a 12-point and eight-rebound outing. The dynamic senior doesn’t play the cleanest game of basketball, but his energy and hustle sparked the crowd and his teammates, helping Arizona State finish on top.
Throughout the season, the Sun Devils have been waiting for a bench player to step up, and Pateev’s big game couldn’t have come at a better time. Jordan Bachynski has struggled with consistency, and Pateev’s impact has helped the Sun Devils win close games.
Furthermore, by having a role player step up, the Sun Devils showed they were capable of winning even when Carson and Felix don’t play their best. This is critical as the Sun Devils will face great tests over the final stretch of games, and players like Gordon and Jonathan Gilling will need to step up as well. It will take a full team effort to finish in the top quarter of the Pac-12 standings.
The Sun Devils showed that they can beat teams in a variety of ways. Though the season isn’t close to being over, the win over the Golden Bears should make an impression on the NCAA Tournament selection committee because of how the Sun Devils won.
It may not have been pretty, and the stars may not have shined, but the Golden Bears are a quality basketball team and Arizona State still came out on top.
A few more wins like Thursday’s, and the Sun Devils might be getting closer to going window-shopping for dancing shoes.