"This is the biggest game that we've played, probably this whole season, and it's against our rival," said freshman point guard Jahii Carson on Thursday after practice. "Having a week to prepare lets us rest our bodies and mentally check back in again. We're both coming off of tough losses, so it's going to come down to who's stronger and who wants it more."
Arizona (23-6, 11-6) used a strong second half offensive performance, outscoring the Sun Devils 42-28, to turn a close game at halftime into a blowout when the two teams met at Wells Fargo Arena earlier this season.
"We've got a little bit of a bad taste in our mouth from the last time that we played them but I think we'll be ready for them this time," added Carrick Felix. "It's going to be an exciting weekend."
Carson spent a good deal of the game struggling with foul trouble, limiting the point guard down the stretch as the Wildcats began to pull away. The Sun Devils were outgunned by the Arizona backcourt in their first meeting of the year, as Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson combined for 43 points in the win. Carson expects different results this time around though.
"I wasn't able to show too much or attack the defense as best as I could," he said. "But I'm going to be smarter this game, use my head and force the defense to play a little more defense."
"It's definitely a hostile environment down there," Carson continued. "It's one the loudest arenas in the country. It'll be my first time being down there so I want to go down there and make a statement. It'll be the first time for people down in Tucson to watch me play, to see our team play, and it's a different style of basketball now, so I think we want to go down there and get an upset."
In order to do so, ASU will need to find its offensive rhythm early and remain consistent against the Wildcats. Last week in Los Angeles, the Sun Devils were undone by costly inconsistent offensive play, letting a nine point lead against UCLA slip away while trailing by as many as 18 against the Trojans in the first half last Saturday.
"We definitely just want to play our game," said the point guard. "We don't want to settle for jump shots because I know we've done that a lot down the stretch of the season which has caused us to get in a little hole. I think once we attack the basket, get them into some foul trouble, I think we can get them into the place that we want them."
Carson admitted that the pressure of trying to secure a tournament berth may have caused the team to over-think the situation, but with a week to move on, he and Felix are expecting a different Sun Devil mentality this weekend.
"I think some guys, individually, just took that to heart," said Carson of the postseason hopes. "They just wanted it so bad. I was one of those guys. The same thing with Carrick. It's tough to weigh on us when we haven't been in that position before. I think now we're back focused and ready to go heading into this game."
"It's definitely going to be important for everyone to be on their game on Saturday," added Felix. "I think it's going to come down to guys being focus and ready to go. It's definitely going to be a big game on a big stage. Everybody has to do their part and just play a good game. I think we'll be ready to do that. I think guys will step up to the opportunity and we'll get it done as a team."
Carson Earns Prestigious Nomination
Jahii Carson has been named one of the eight finalists for the Integirs Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Year award, along with fellow conference newcomer Shabazz Muhammad. So far this season, the super frosh is averaging 17.8 points 5 assists per game.
"That's an honor," remarked Carson. "I'd like to thank my teammates because they put me in a position to go out and score the basketball. They've been huge supporters of mine, and it's an honor."
Carson has racked up 151 assists in his first campaign for the Sun Devils putting him in a rare class for conference freshmen, as only ten other playmakers have ever accomplished such feat in their first season. He's also averaging a league-high 38.3 minutes per game in conference play, and has made a name for himself a premiere college scorer on the road, averaging 21.5 points per game hen the Sun Devils are away from their friendly Tempe confines.
"I had no clue," said Carson on what he expected from his freshman season after being forced to sit out last year. "I was just trying to prepare myself for the physicality of the (Pac-12) and the speed of the (Pac-12) and just try to play my game. As the season came along I just adjusted and saw openings that I didn't see before and just blossomed as the season progressed."
Bachynski Nears Block Record
Entering the final week of the regular season, Arizona State has recorded a school recorded 189 blocked shots and currently ranks sixth in the nation, averaging 6.3 blocks per game. A big reason for that has been the stellar play of junior Jordan Bachynski commanding the paint. The Canadian center has already registered 110 blocks for the season, and is just six blocks shy of setting the school and Pac-12 conference single season mark for blocks in a season, which currently belongs to former Sun Devil Mario Bennett (1994-95), with 115.
"Wow, I didn't even know that!" remarked Felix. "That's very impressive. He means a lot to our team and it shows you how much he's improved over the last two years and how much he's going to keep improving. But at the same time, congratulations to him. He's stepped up and done something that a lot of people can't say they've done. We're just proud of him, as a team."
Bachynski currently has 171 career blocks for the maroon and gold, second to just Bennett on the school's all-time list with 191.
"He's definitely a defensive presence," added Carson. "With us being a man-to-man team and switching down on ball screens, they want to get me off the dribble and having a 7'2" center there who's mobile enough and can block shots, it helps our defense and our offense. I like to push the basketball and when we get stops it helps us get more easy buckets."
UCLA set the conference single season record with 199 blocks as a team in 2010-11. With its remaining game against Arizona and postseason games to come, including the conference tournament next week, the chances are high that both Bachynski and the Sun Devils will re-write both of the records before the season's end.