The Arizona State basketball team has played 21 games this season, but for the Sun Devils, the feeling of victory doesn’t seem to be getting old. Picked to finish near the cellar in the Pac-12 conference by media experts, head coach Herb Sendek’s squad continues to buck the trend and produce heart-stopping victories.
The maroon and gold needed overtime to defeat the USC Trojans at home last week, but utterly dominated a UCLA team coming off a road victory at Arizona just two days later. Then, on Thursday night, the Sun Devils squeaked out another too-close-for-comfort win over a Washington State team that has struggled mightily throughout conference play.
As the saying goes, a win is a win. When you’ve racked up 17 wins, chances are, you’re doing something right. Some games have been hard-fought nail biters, and others have been bona fide blowouts, but in the end, they all count the same.
On Saturday night, the Sun Devils will enter into another difficult conference matchup and this time, they’ll face the Washington Huskies. Though the Huskies raced out to a 4-0 start in Pac-12 play, head coach Lorenzo Romar has had a difficult time adjusting his team to the rigors of the conference slate and they have dropped their past four games.
On Thursday night, the Huskies nearly rebounded from the losing streak, but they limped to the finish line in a 57-53 loss to the Arizona Wildcats. A dismal finish saw a second half lead go to waste, and the Huskies’ collapse dropped their overall mark to 12-9.
The rough ending for Washington was the antithesis of how Arizona State closed out its game in Pullman on Thursday. In the second half alone, Jahii Carson tallied 21 points and Carrick Felix added a double-double in the 63-59 squeaker.
Regardless of how each team is playing, the law of Pac-12 basketball seems to demand that almost every game come down to the wire, so expect the same when the Huskies and Sun Devils do battle in Seattle.
Keys to the Game:
It took 20 minutes of basketball in Pullman before the Sun Devils finally discovered the recipe to beating the Cougars’ defense. A lengthy wait on Saturday could spell doom for Arizona State, so expect Coach Sendek to put the ball in the hands of Carson and Felix early and often.
Make Free Throws
Another Sun Devil game, another plea for this team to start knocking down the freebies. Foul shots have been Arizona State’s Achilles heel all season long, but an 80 percent mark or better from the charity stripe could make the difference in crucial road games like this one.
Against Washington State, the Sun Devils jacked up 31 three-point attempts that marked their highest total of the season from beyond the arc. A sagging Cougar defense demanded the Sun Devils get hot from the perimeter to beat them, and the 11 makes were barely enough. The Huskies could come out with a similar strategy, but penetration and ball movement need to be the emphasis if the shots aren’t falling.
Key Matchup: Aziz N’Diaye (Center) and Jordan Bachynski (Center)
N’Diaye is among the most capable big men in the Pac-12 and his consistency has boosted Washington throughout the season. The center averages 10.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, and should be a tough matchup for Jordan Bachynski.
The Sun Devils’ tallest player has been hot and cold throughout conference play, and his past two games are not exceptions. The 7-foot-2 goliath set career highs with 22 points and 15 boards against UCLA, but contributed just five points and five rebounds in the victory over Washington State.
If either one of these post players dominate the matchup, the other team will have its hands full and likely have to score a victory in come-from-behind fashion.