The worst losses are when you play terribly in just about every facet and still lose in gut-wrenching fashion. That's what happened Saturday evening in Tempe when Stanford was hitting on cylinders but struggled closing the game despite ASU shooting 34% from the field, 30% from deep and hit just 8-16 free throws. Ugly all around effort but still had a chance to tie the game at the end. The Sun Devils utilized an extremely small lineup that seemingly worked but just wasn't enough at the end. Carrick Felix and Jahii Carson combined to score 31 of the teams 59 points in the loss.
Arizona State and Utah opened their Pac-12 slates against each other in Tempe in early January with the Sun Devils escaping with a 55-54 overtime victory. Jason Washburn was a freak putting up 19 points and pulling down 18 boards but Carrick Felix (17 pts), Jahii Carson (15) and Jordan Bachynski (14) were too much for the Utes in the low-scoring battle.
Stanford refused to shut the door on ASU but the Sun Devils could not capitalize. With this matchup against Utah their first of the five road games over the next seven, the Devils needed to protect the home court. Utah is a Pac-12 bottom feeder but they play well at home and if the first contest between these two tells you anything, the Utes aren't going to go quietly into the night. ASU has split their first two conference road-trips but a sweep in the mountains is reasonable and it starts on Wednesday night.
Larry Krystkowiak: 2nd season at Utah – 16-38; 58-58 career
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 112-99; 366-267 career
G – Jarred DuBois (12.2 PPG, 3.1 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (17.9 PPG, 5.1 APG)
G – Brandon Taylor (6.1 PPG, 46% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (11.3 PPG, 35% 3PT)
F – Cedric Martin (4.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (14.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG)
F – Jordan Loveridge (12.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG)
F – Jason Washburn (11.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (9.7 PPG, 3.8 BPG)
Why Utah Can Win:
In the first game between the Sun Devils and the Utes – neither team shot well and Jason Washburn nearly carried his team to the victory all by himself. This time, the Utes will likely hammer the post and expose the somewhat flimsy interior protection that Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev try to provide. This team is also excellent from the free throw line hitting 75% of their charity shots. Deeper than the Devils, Utah will look to be aggressive and force the already-thin ASU to play tentatively as to avoid foul trouble.
Why ASU Can Win:
It was in Salt Lake City a year ago when things changed for Jordan Bachynski as he scored 10 points, pulled down seven rebounds and swatted four shots. All three numbers were career highs up to that point and he has shown improvement ever since. Bachynski saw very limited over the last weekend with just 25 minutes of action and eight total points. Lineup strategy and hot hands aside, the Canadian Giant needs to be more proactive demanding the ball and attacking the hoop instead of putting the ball on the ground. If JB can make an impact on both ends, Washburn and Loveridge will struggle and the Sun Devils will outrun the Utes.
Key Stat: Jahii Carson loves hotel beds. The freshman from Mesa has gone off in four Pac-12 road games averaging 24.3 points per game and just five turnovers combined over those four games.
X-Factor: Against Stanford, Evan Gordon was the poster-child of a struggling shooting night as he was just 4-16 from the field and hit just one of his six three-point attempts including a puzzling air ball when he was wide open in the corner in the final minute. Tired legs or mental? When Gordon is making a positive impact, the rest of the Sun Devils are better for it as Carson gets more room to drive and defenses cannot leave anyone alone. Having played at least 35 minutes in his last seven games, Gordon will need to battle through the short rest week and hit some shots against the Utes.
Final Score: ASU 71 Utah 64