Preview: ASU at Stanford

Arizona State could seemingly do no wrong on Thursday night. They dominated California from start to finish and left Haas Pavilion with a resounding 79-44 victory. Now the Sun Devils travel to Stanford for a Saturday night matchup, hoping to secure a sweep of the Bay Area schools.

How dominant was Thursday night’s win? Consider this: Arizona State (10-9, 2-4) held California scoreless for more than 13 minutes in the first half . The game was tied at 10 with 14:41 remaining in the half, before ASU went on a 24-3 run to take a 34-13 lead into halftime. The Bears were never able to recover and the Sun Devils used a well-balanced effort to notch the second-largest Pac-12 road win in school history.

For the second consecutive game, ASU’s offense was considerably more fluid and operated relatively error-free, committing only 11 turnovers. The Sun Devils shot 48 percent from the field, while converting 10 3-pointers in the game. With some of the starters in foul trouble, the Sun Devils got a big boost from its bench, which pumped in 48 points. Reserves Bo Barnes (17 points) and Kodi Justice (16 points) both record career-highs, and displayed a deft shooting touch, combining to hit six 3-pointers.

As efficient as the offense was for ASU, it was their defensive effort that ultimately stole the headlines. Led by Shaquielle McKissic and his four steals, the Sun Devils held the Bears to 33 percent from the field and forced 19 California turnovers. McKissic, who was matched up against the Bears’ leading scorer Tyrone Wallace, disrupted Cal’s talented guard from the outset and never allowed him to find a rhythm. Wallace did not make a field goal and finished with only seven points – which was 11 points below his season average. Aside from McKissic, the rest of the team displayed a scrappiness that has rarely been seen this season. The Sun Devils are still a work in progress, but the last two games are an encouraging sign that they may have finally turned a corner.

Stanford (13-5, 4-2) enters Saturday’s contest on the heels of an 89-82 loss to No. 7 Arizona. The Cardinal, who are currently ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, have been one of the more consistent teams in the Pac-12. Their starting five – which features three seniors and one junior – is an experienced bunch. Led by senior point guard Chasson Randle, the conference’s leading scorer, the Cardinal uses a well-balanced attack to overpower opponents. Along with Randle, fellow seniors Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic make up the Pac-12’s highest scoring trio, and average over 49 points per contest.

The Cardinal lineup has undergone some changes in the last few weeks. Freshman power forward Reid Travis, a starter, sustained a season-ending leg injury in early January. To compensate for his loss, junior forward Rosco Allen slid over to the power forward position. Allen, a face-up four man, gives the Cardinal an additional shooter who can space the floor. Additionally, sophomore guard Marcus Allen was inserted into the starting lineup to give Stanford an additional ball handler and shooter. However, the recent changes shouldn’t bother the Cardinal players, who have seen their coach Johnny Dawkins use a variety of lineup combinations throughout the season. Dawkins has quality depth on his bench and isn’t afraid to use as many as 9 to 10 players on a regular basis.

If the NCAA tourney started today, Stanford would safely be in the field of 68. However, a home loss to ASU would likely be considered be a blemish to their solid tournament résumé. Don't be surprised to see the Cardinal play with purpose and passion on Saturday.

Probable Starters:

G – Tra Holder (4.6 PPG, 2.6 APG) vs. Chasson Randle (20.2 PPG, 2.8 APG)

G – Gerry Blakes (10.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG) vs. Marcus Allen (3.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG)

F – Shaq McKissic (10.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) vs. Anthony Brown (15.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG)

F – Savon Goodman (10 PPG, 6.2 RPG) vs. Rosco Allen (8.6 PPG, 38% 3PT)

C – Eric Jacobsen (10 PPG, 66% FG) vs. Stefan Nastic (13.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG)

Why ASU Can Win: The Sun Devil offense is rolling – averaging 78.5 points the last two games. ASU has re-discovered its outside shooting – making 10 3-pointers in both of their victories over Colorado and California. More importantly, this looks like a different team. ASU is playing with more confidence and swagger than they have exhibited all season long. They may finally be gelling into the team that coach Herb Sendek envisioned at the beginning of the season. If ASU continues to get solid point guard play from their two freshmen and contain Stanford’s Big Three, then the Sun Devils could escape with a sweep.

Why Stanford Can Win: The Cardinal is a savvy team, who don’t beat themselves. They average 10.7 turnovers per game, which is best among all Pac-12 teams. They are also one of the better 3-point shooting teams, converting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Their experience-laden roster is adept at closing out games and can rely on Randle and Brown if they need a bucket down the stretch. Coming off a loss to Arizona, one would expect Stanford to bounce back with a vengeance.

Key Stat: Saturday’s matchup may come down to which team takes better care of the ball. ASU averages a league-worst 14.7 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Stanford is the best in the Pac-12, committing only 10.7 turnovers per contest.

X-Factor: ASU’s freshmen point guards. Kodi Justice and Tra Holder have looked much better in the last two games. In the win against California, the two freshmen combined to register 21 points and four assists, but still had issues handling the ball and committed four turnovers. Ideally, you’d like to see that assist-to-turnover ratio improve, but their play over the last week is encouraging. The freshmen duo will have their hands full trying to stop Randle, who averages a league-best 20.2 points per game.

Final Score Prediction: Stanford 71, ASU 64

Game Info: When: 10:00 p.m. MT

Where: Maples Pavilion – Stanford, Calif.

TV/Radio: ESPNU/KMVP 98.7 FM

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