Sun Devils look to bounce back versus Texas

After dropping five of their last seven games to close-out the season, Arizona State players and coaches were relieved to hear their name called during Sunday's selection show for the NCAA Tournament, where the Sun Devils will face Texas on Thursday in Milwaukee, which presents an opportunity to regain its confidence.

For the Sun Devils (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12), it's their first tournament appearance since 2009 when they advanced to the round of the 32 after defeating Temple in the first round and just their second overall tournament appearance under Head Coach Herb Sendek.

Arizona State will face a Longhorn team who also enters the tournament on a bit of a slide, having lost five of their last eight games, including an 86-69 defeat to Baylor in the semifinals of the Big-12 tournament last week.

Texas (23-10, 11-7 Big-12) is led by its talented frontcourt of sophomore Cameron Ridley and junior Jonathan Holmes.

Holmes, a Second Team All-Big-12 selection, led the Longhorns with 13.0 points to go along with 7.2 rebounds per game.

"Jonathan Holmes is a young man we actually tried to recruit from Texas," said Sendek earlier this week after practice. "He's so versatile. He's 6-8 and probably weighs 230, so he's thick and strong. He shoots the ball from three, he puts it on the floor, and he plays in the post, so he can really score in a variety of ways."

Helping pace Holmes in the paint is Ridley, who averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds this season, earning Big-12 Honorable Mention honors.

"He's got just tremendous size," commented Sendek. "He's probably 6-10, 6-11, 285. He's a wide body but he does a great job of running the floor and moving and he has tremendous hands. I mean, he catches everything.

"He finishes around the basket and he blocks shots. Those two frontcourt players for them are a handful."

The Longhorns are coached by Rick Barnes, the Big-12's Coach of the Year, who helped guide the Longhorns to a third place conference finish after UT was projected to finish eighth in the Big-12 this season.

"We know they're an outstanding team and a team that's very well coached," said Sendek. "I think they're especially impressive on the defensive end of the floor where their numbers are among the best in the country. They also rebound the basketball exceptionally well."

"They have a big, strong frontcourt. They have very quick guards. Obviously, coming out of the Big-12 they've played and defeated outstanding competition throughout the season."

The Longhorns, who are making their 14th tournament appearance in 16 seasons under Barnes, averaged 74.1 points per game this season as a team while limiting opponents to just 70.0.

Texas also finished fourth in the NCAA in team rebounding, hauling in 41.8 rebounds per contest.

"They kind of play just like us," said Sun Devil point guard Jahii Carson. "They've got a three guard line-up with two bigs inside who bang and like to run the floor in transition. They've got some inconsistent shooters but they penetrate and try to get guys in foul trouble.

"We're just going to try and play our style of game and keep the tempo our way."


Crashing the Boards?

It's been a re-occurring issue all season long for Arizona State and it's very likely that Thursday's first round meeting with Texas will come down to one thing for the Sun Devils - rebounding.

Despite having a 7-2 center and 6-10 power forward, Arizona State finished last in rebounding in the Pac-12 this season and was one of only two teams (Washington State) in the conference with a negative rebounding margin against their competition.

"To be honest, I've got no answer for you," said senior Jordan Bachynski when asked why the team has struggled rebounding this season. "I feel like sometimes we'll have two or three guys boxing out and one guy will just be standing and watching. We've got to get everybody on the glass.

"It's been hurtful to us to see how many times we've played pretty good defense, gotten a stop, maybe forced a team to take an ill-advised shot in some cases, only to watch somebody on the other team get the rebound and eventually score," added Sendek.

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, they'll face arguably their biggest test on Thursday against the Longhorns as Texas finished second only to Kansas in rebounding in the Big-12 this season and ranks 11th nationally with a 7.3 rebounding advantage over its competition.

"They're one of the best in the nation and we need to get everybody on the boards," said Bachynski. "It can't just be one guy going to the glass, it's got to be everybody. The guards have got to get bodies on guys and when I'm engaged in boxing a guy out, we've got to have guys come in and take the rebound.

"It's a mindset now," added Carson "I don't think there are any drills you can do, you've just got to go after the ball. If you go after the ball, good things are going to happen. I think all of us should have a mindset that way. We can't think, 'Oh, (he's) going to go and get it.' We've all got to go get it."


Avoiding the Slow Start

Arizona State hasn't done itself very many favors as of late trying to shake its current downward trend. In the team's last three games, the Sun Devils have been outscored 15-0, 9-2, and most recently 9-0 by the opposition, forcing them to play catch-up for nearly a full 40 minutes.

"I think the last couple games we've had some really makeable shots, even on the first possession of the game," said Sendek. "In some instances we've been right at the rim and for whatever reason, we haven't converted. I think to some degree, our lack of production on offense has spilled over to the defensive end and all of a sudden we're in quicksand and I'm over there calling a timeout."

While Arizona State managed to pull itself out its early hole in each contest, the Sun Devils have only led for a total of two minutes and thirty-three seconds combined over the last three games.

"When you spot teams that many points, you have to play almost flawless throughout the whole the game," said Carson. "And come March, games pretty much come down to one or two possessions, so if we can eliminate those, I think we're pretty much in every game and can win every game.

"If we don't hit shots, we've definitely got to come down and rebound at the other end. And I think our energy at the defensive end will help our offensive intensity and then we'll be able to get easy buckets. But when you're not hitting shots and not rebounding and not getting back in transition, it's going to be tough for any team."

Over the last three games, the Sun Devils are shooting just 68-171 from the floor (.397) and an even worse 28-75 (.373) from three point range.

"The reason we got off to slow starts is because we're not making those easy buckets that we normally do," said Bachynski. "I mean, Jermaine's been missing, I've been missing, Jahii and the whole team. We've just got to keep getting in the gym like I've been the past few days, just getting great workouts in and working on my touch around the basket and building my confidence."


Marshall Trying to Find his Form

Over the final month of the season, the story for the Sun Devils has been how Jermaine Marshall goes, so goes the team.

The normally reliable Marshall has been inconsistent as of late, and in particular on the road, where Arizona State hasn't won since January 29th against California.

In the team's last five games away from Wells Fargo Arena, Marshall has shot just 10-57 (.175) from the floor and 6-36 (.166) from behind the three point line, while he's averaged only 7.8 points, or nearly half his season average.

"A lot of the ones I'm missing are wide open," said Marshall earlier this week after practice. "A couple of them I felt my jump-shot was off, like I was trying to guide the ball, but then other ones, they just rolled in and out of the basket, so there's not much you can do about those."

"It's frustrating as a shooter, but you've just got to keep telling yourself the next one is going down. I've got great teammates and they keep telling me the same thing, so it's not like they want me to stop shooting the ball. Eventually they'll start dropping and I'll get on my hot streak."

In an effort to regain his touch, Marshall has been putting in the extra work recently after practice, staying late and shooting anywhere between 350 and 500 additional shots to shake his shooting woes.

"I've been in the gym," he said. "I just got done shooting. I'm doing everything I need to do. All I can do is just keep shooting and tell myself the next one is going in."

"He's taking it upon himself to get some extra shooting in," added Sendek. "The big thing is, no player can rely just on shooting to impact the game. There are so many other ways to help your team.

"Jermaine's a good shooter and the next shot I always think is going in. He has a smooth release and when it leaves his fingertips, you just always think it's going in."

The senior has recently been slowed by some knee soreness, which according to Sendek, has required Marshall to take an occasional shot to limit the discomfort.

But after only playing one game in the last 10 days, Marshall insists he's physically ready go and optimistic his shots will start falling soon.

"I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm just ready to play. I'm just ready to get out there and show them what we got. We've got a lot of doubters, as far as Arizona State basketball goes." "I don't really let a lot of things affect my confidence. I don't think we do as a team either. We just need to come together and be one unit when we go down to Milwaukee. When we're connected, we're a hard team to play against and we'll be well connect on Thursday and ready to go."

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