The Sun Devils jumped out to an early lead over Washington, leading by as many as eight, behind a hot start from senior Ty Abbott and sophomore Trent Lockett. However, their productive play quickly unraveled as the Huskies switched to a zone defense forcing the Devils to settle for long, contested shots for the remainder of the game.
"We really didn't prepare for a zone.," said Abbott of the Huskies defensive approach. "Playing them, they're a man-to-man, deny team. That really wasn't something that we worked on much this week. Regardless, it's not the first time we've seen a zone; we'll take the fall for that one."
For the game, ASU was only able to shoot 39% percent against the Huskies' zone, and was limited to just 4-17 shooting from behind the three point arc. Perhaps even more troubling for the cold-shooting Devils was the fact they were once again unable to take advantage of their free throw opportunities, making only 6-19 for the game, limiting their chances to crawl back into the game.
Abbott, who scored thirteen points in the game's first twenty minutes, was struck with a technical foul in second half's early minutes for a minor altercation with Washington's Isaiah Thomas, and never seemed to regain his form.
"We got kind of stagnant (in the second half)," Abbott added after the game. "We didn't have very much fluidity. We were just kind of standing around, looking at each other."
The Devils' woes weren't limited to just their offense though, as they surrendered a number of easy looks in both their matchup zone defense and in transition.
"At this point, I don't know what part of it is grasping and what part of it is playing," said head coach Herb Sendek on his team's defense. "It comes down to stuff like basics; guarding the ball, playing good post area defense. It's the fundamentals.
"Rarely is it some schematic jigsaw puzzle. It usually is the fundamentals on both ends of the floor. That's what this game comes down to."
Seemingly the lone bright spot for the Devils on this evening was the play of freshman Corey Hawkins, who may have finally had his breakthrough game as a Sun Devil. The talented, though seldom-used shooter, came off the bench and delivered seven points and five rebounds to go along with two assists in eighteen minutes of action.
"I thought he (Hawkins) really made some terrific hustle plays," said Sendek. "He got on the floor a couple times - he's been doing that in practice - and gave us some really good energy."
Hawkins' hustle earned him a spot amongst the starters for the second half and could go a long way towards possibly earning him more minutes as the season winds down for the Devils.
"He played well for the last couple of minutes of the first half and deserved to start (the second half)," commented Sendek. "He made a shot and gave us a spark and I just liked what I saw so I stayed with him."
For now, the Devils will look to rebound Saturday against the Washington State Cougars, a vulnerable yet dangerous team, still clinging to NCAA tournament hopes. And while fans may have left Wells Fargo Arena Thursday shaking their heads, wondering what happened to the Sun Devil team that nearly captured a conference title just a season ago, the head coach remains steadfast and positive.
"We are getting better. We just don't have anything to show for it, in terms of wins," said Sendek after the game. "We haven't had a break through. But believe me when I tell you, looking back, we're getting better. It's not good enough to win in our league right now, but we're getting better.
"At this point, maybe I'm just being stubborn, but I refuse to get frustrated. I'll leave that up to somebody else. If anything, right now, I'm just feistier than ever."