In a weekend that would determine the legitimacy of this 2012-13 Sun Devil squad, ASU emphatically swept USC and UCLA to show the country that there are two teams in Arizona that can play a little basketball this year.
Against USC, defense proved optional as the Sun Devils prevailed 98-93 in overtime despite the Trojans sinking 15 shots from beyond the arch including some serious prayers at the end of regulation. Four Sun Devils scored in double digits led by Evan Gordon's 28 big ones.
Beating USC was something ASU should have done given the team's records and past history but the larger test was UCLA – a dominant program with the #1 recruiting class and coming off a win over Arizona in their house but the Sun Devils would have none of it. Exposing the Bruins soft interior and a balanced attack sparked a 78-60 victory in which the Sun Devils were seemingly always in control. Jordan Bachynski carved up the Bruins with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks while Carrick Felix led the team with 23 points and ended the game in style by swatting Jordan Adams' attempt at a cheap bucket in garbage time.
When you schedule a pillow-soft non-conference schedule, the only real hope to advance to the NCAA Tournament is to pile up wins everywhere you can. Washington State is not a tournament team and Washington isn't as good as they have been in years past. Winning on the road is crucial in Pac-12 play when fighting to stay in the top half of the standings and earning a split on this trip is vital for Arizona State's resume.
Ken Bone: 4th season at Washington State --61-49;393–234 (.627) Career
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 112-99; 366-267 career
G – DaVonte Lacy (9.0 PPG, 1.7 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (17.3 PPG, 5.5 APG)
G – Royce Woolridge (7.7 PPG, 30% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (11.1 PPG, 35% 3PT)
F – Mike Ladd (11.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (15.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG)
F – D.J. Shelton (5.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG)
F – Brock Motum (18.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (10.5 PPG, 4.4 BPG)
Why Wazzu Can Win:
Balance, balance and some balance – that is the key to Washington State's success. Brock Motum has come from Australia and proven to be one of the Pac-12's elite talents. After that, there is a plethora of talent as Mike Ladd can do it all off the wing as he is second on the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. DeVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge round out the backcourt as D.J Shelton is another massive body down low aside Motum.
An interesting facet of the Cougars attack is that all five starters are comfortable shooting from downtown and they can all fill up a stat sheet. Like ASU, Washington State is somewhat thin after that as only Dexter Kernich-Drew and Will DiIorio see significant action off the bench. Washington State will find success if Motum does what he does but gets help from a few different teammates in terms of offensive production.
Why ASU Can Win:
This team has shown that it can consistently rely on multiple options to score and maintain an up tempo pace for a full 40 minutes. Jahii Carson is instant-offense whenever he is on the court but he looks even better when his shooters are knocking down the open looks that he creates.
Carrick Felix has been named the Pac-12 Player of the Week three times now and has taken his game to whole new level and deserves as much credit as Carson has received for ASU's resurgence thus far. Jordan Bachynski has been streaky but when he is good, he makes an enormous impact on both ends of the floor.
Those may be the big three but Jon Gilling and Evan Gordon are working hard to make it a big five as Gordon's ability to score from anywhere and Gilling's all-around game make the Devils a well oiled machine when everyone is clicking. Winning on the road is never easy but this is a winnable game and ASU has earned the right to walk into that gym and believe they will win.
Key Stat: ASU has outshot the opponent in nine of the past 10 games. ASU is 101-22 (.821) under Coach Sendek when it outshoots the opponent.
X-Factor: Chris Colvin; after missing the last three games due to suspension, ASU's backup PG has been reinstated and will be back in action this weekend. While Jahii Carson has been everything Sun Devil fans could want and then some, his biggest flaw may just be his tendency to get into foul trouble. Foul trouble for your star player is always a huge issue but when you have no depth at that position – that is poison.
Colvin's return should give Carson more opportunities to rest and keep Evan Gordon playing off the ball instead of being the prime ball-handler when Carson is absent. Colvin's return is unfortunate for Bo Barnes though as his minutes will likely dwindle.
Final Score: ASU 75 Wazzu 71