Preview: ASU at Washington

Inconsistency has plagued Arizona State (12-12, 4-7) all season long – and it reared its ugly head yet again in Friday night’s 74-71 loss to Washington State. Fortunately for ASU, they have little time to ruminate on how another close game slipped through their fingers. The Sun Devils will be back in action for a Sunday afternoon matchup against Washington.

The Sun Devils are coming off a poor shooting performance on Friday night. They were uncharacteristically bad from three-point range – connecting on only 5 of 21 shots. They also had issues at the line, making 10 of 16 free throws. Ball control – which has been a season-long problem – wasn’t much better. The Sun Devils committed 15 turnovers, while the Cougars had only nine. However, it was a poor defensive effort, especially down the stretch, that ultimately sealed ASU’s fate.

Washington State shot 59.3 percent in the second half and scored 45 points. The Sun Devils had difficulty keeping the Cougars out of the lane, and gave up too many easy baskets. When the Cougars weren’t converting on point-blank opportunities, they leaned on senior wing Dexter Kernich-Drew, who scored a career-high 27 points on an array of trick shots. To make matters worse, ASU did not have their super sub and defensive specialist, Bo Barnes, for most of the game. The senior guard sprained his ankle in the first half and did not return. He is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s matchup.

There was a silver lining in the loss: the play of ASU’s starting backcourt. Shooting guard Gerry Blakes single-handedly kept the game close, and scored 16 of his career-high 24 points in the final five minutes. His backcourt running mate, Tra Holder, continued his recent streak of impressive play with 14 points and three assists. Forward Savon Goodman also had a solid performance, registering eight points and a career-high 14 rebounds in the loss.

Washington (14-10, 3-9) is one of the more interesting stories of the college basketball season. They jumped out to an 11-0 mark and were ranked as high as No. 13 in the AP poll. But after a shocking loss to Stony Brook at home in mid-December, the Huskies have been in a free fall, losing 10 of their last 13 games, and limp into Sunday’s contest on a six-game losing streak.

A major reason for the Huskies’ slide was the dismissal of 7-foot center Robert Upshaw, who was kicked off the team in late January for an unspecified violation of team rules. The talented, but troubled, sophomore was leading the nation in blocked shots at the time of his dismissal. With the absence of Upshaw in the middle, there is now a gaping hole in the Washington defense. They went from one of the Pac-12’s best defensive teams to one of its most vulnerable. To compensate for the loss of Upshaw, head coach Lorenzo Romar has gone to a smaller lineup, sliding Kemp to center and playing him alongside four guards. However, the new lineup has largely been ineffective for Romar, who is rumored to be on the hot seat.

Washington is led by their talented backcourt, which is one of the best in the Pac-12. Sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss is among the league leaders in points, assists and steals. Junior shooting guard Andrew Andrews continues to improve each season and is one of the best scorers in the conference. Senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. is finally living up to his potential and is scoring in double figures for the first time in his UW career.

Probable Starters:

G – Tra Holder (6.4 PPG, 3.1 APG) vs. Nigel Williams-Goss (15 PPG, 6 APG)

G – Gerry Blakes (11 PPG, 4.2 RPG) vs. Andrew Andrews (13.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG)

F – Shaq McKissic (9.9 PPG, 1.5 SPG) vs. Mike Anderson (8 PPG, 5.8 RPG)

F – Savon Goodman (9.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG) vs. Donaven Dorsey (4 PPG, 1.7 RPG)

C – Eric Jacobsen (9.5 PPG, 65% FG) vs. Shawn Kemp Jr. (10.3 PPG, 61% FG)

Why ASU Can Win: The Sun Devils are a more complete team and should have a distinct advantage in the paint with their size and strength. Jacobsen and Goodman could have big games against the Huskies’ smaller frontcourt. ASU’s offense has been rolling in recent weeks, averaging 74.1 points in the last seven games. Against a defensively-challenged Washington squad, ASU should have no issues putting points on the board. Defensively, ASU can dare Washington to shoot it from the perimeter. The Huskies are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams (31 percent) in the conference. If the Sun Devils can slow down Williams-Goss, they have a great chance of leaving Washington with a split.

Why Washington Can Win: History is on the Huskies’ side. Washington has an eight-game winning streak against ASU and has owned the Sun Devils during the Sendek-era. Aside from history, the Huskies’ small lineup could cause matchup problems for the Sun Devils, who are short-handed with the injuries of Barnes, Justice and MacDougall. Washington has an extremely athletic team and likes to push the ball up the court, which does not bode well for ASU, who has had problems with their transition defense all season long. If the game is close, Washington’s superior guard play may come into play. They have two of the better “closers” in the Pac-12 in Williams-Goss and Andrews.

Key Stat: ASU has struggled against Washington over the last decade. The Sun Devils are 3-21 in the last 24 meetings, and have lost eight in a row to the Huskies.

X-Factor: Jon Gilling. With Bo Barnes doubtful for Sunday’s game, ASU will need Gilling to provide some scoring punch off the bench. The senior forward has been noticeably quiet over the last month. He is averaging only 5.3 points per game in Pac-12 play and has not scored in double digits since Dec. 20.

Final Score Prediction: ASU 73, Washington 69

Game Info:

When: 3:30 p.m. MT

Where: Alaska Airlines Arena - Seattle, Wash.

TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network/98.7 FM

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