Quick Takes: Arizona State
Stanford and Arizona State head into this one with near-identical overall records: The Cardinal are 14-3 and the Sun Devils 14-2 after their double-overtime win at Cal on Thursday. Earlier today, Arizona knocked off Cal, 79-75, and USC pulled the shocker over UCLA, 72-63 at Pauley. That win could go a long way to bumping the Trojans into the NCAA Tournament.
First Half: Between taking until 7:15pm to find the one TV in South Lake Tahoe (I'm out here on ski trip - a Stanford tradition) that carries FSN- Arizona and picking my jaw off the floor the rest of the half, I don't have much to say here. The less said the better, I suppose. Stanford's 20 points in the first half have to be their fewest in a half since the 39-37 thriller at Washington State two years ago. Arizona State played an incredibly effective zone defense: we seemed insistent on going to cold-shooting Brook Lopez, the Sun Devils had two or three guys around him all the time, and we didn't do much to adjust. [Postgame edit: his missing nine of his first 10 shots didn't help. We also were outshot 42 percent to 36 percent, unsurprisingly, but were outboarded 16 to 12 - which is inexcusable given our size advantage. Law Hill leads all scorers with five, Fred Washington has four and Brook three. Jerren Shipp scored five in a row late in the half for eight points, and Ty Abbott and Jeff Pendergraph each have seven.
8:04pm: The second half starts the way the first one ended: ugly, ugly, ugly. Fred Washington leaves James Harden wide open to help Brook Lopez on the double of Pendergraph, and that's an easy two for Harden. 32-20, 20 seconds into the second.
8:07pm: But hey, Lawrence Hill has two uncontested putbacks from three feet out, and now it's 32-24. Plus, Pendergraph has three fouls, and we can only hope ASU reads Trent Johnson's Coaching for Dummies and automatically sits him with three fouls.
8:08pm: Anthony Goods gets a great screen and hits a wide-open NBA three. The margin's now six, 33-27, as ASU had split a pair of freebies at the other end. About time, they were 7-of-7 on first-half free throws.
8:11pm: Pendergraph somehow gets whistled for a foul for leaning into Brook Lopez with his back to the basket in the low paint. Brook Lopez even looks surprised - that was the weakest foul call I've seen the entire year. And it's one of the most significant - Pendergraph is now at four fouls and is heading to the bench for a long time. How will ASU handle Brook's size down low? Trey Bender and Tom Kuyper are calling this for FSN Arizona: "That's a homecourt foul." Hard to argue.
8:13pm: Right when I was going to praise Trent for an effective halftime adjustment (a major pet peeve with our fans, I know), the offenses bog down for both teams and it's still 33-27 at the first media timeout. Not that I would gamble (ironically, considering that the one place in South Lake Tahoe that has this game is a casino sportsbook), but we have to be hitting our unders in 80 percent of our games.
8:15pm: Brook Lopez splits a pair from the line, and is now just 1-of-8 from the floor. But the defense keeps doing its thing and the lead's half what it was coming out of the locker room: 33-28.
8:16pm: It's all about Brook. On the defensive end, he's late closing out on Abbott, who swishes a three. On the offensive end, he misses, grabs his rebound, misses, grabs his rebound, misses and gets fouled, and again splits the pair. 36-29. We have picked up a LOT of fouls on ASU early this half (their fourth already, just five minutes in), so if we can keep it going and hit our freebies down the stretch, we might just come out with this thing.
8:18pm: After a Taj Finger block and another foul on the Devils (Harden's first), Fred Washington comes up a muscular rebound, and the ball gets swung around to Goods for a 14-foot jumper. Arizona State is at six second-half fouls at the 13:22 mark, and we're within 36-33.
8:21pm: 13:10 left in the game and we're already in the bonus after Shipp, going for an offensive rebound, knocks down Finger. The Devils had to have just set a record for quickest to seven fouls, and what do you know - maybe the scoring pace will increase after all. Taj makes up for missing the front end of a late-game one-and-one Thursday night here, and hits both.
8:23pm: Fadeaway three from Anthony Goods: splash! It's 38-36 with 12 minutes left, our first lead since 2-0. (And yes ladies, that is our own Pat Fitzgerald on TV sporting the ski cap and the Aviators. You can also see him in similar attire in the media guide. I hear he signs autographs.)
Three important notes on this 15-4 run:
- First, it's come with Mitch Johnson and Pendergraph on the bench. Pendergraph still has four fouls, while Mitch has been substituted for Landry, with Anthony running the point. I think Coach Johnson decided that given the deficit, Mitch is too much of a liability defending penetration at this point in the game.
- Secondly, I don't have stats, but I have my eyes. All of a sudden, we're back to rebounding at a huge edge after actually being outboarded 16-13 in the first half.
- And third, how about the fact that this run is coming on the backs of Anthony Goods and Lawrence Hill? We've been wondering since November when these guys, Hill especially, would snap out of their slump and play to the level they did last year. Guess that switch flipped at a most opportune time.
8:28pm: We're busting our butts on defense. The Devils have one point in the last 3:30, but more than the numbers, it's how hard we're running around each screen and how hard we're swatting at the ball every time Arizona State grabs a rebound. The Devils finally snap the scoreless streak with a Hardin three, and a wide-open Washington hits a lay-up off a backdoor cut (Boetang's mistake) to tie the game at 40 apiece, so it's obviously anyone's game. But whatever happens, let's not lose sight of the fact that this has been our best 10 minutes of the season, and between this game and the last, these have been our two "hardest-fought" games of the season.
8:32pm: Wow, I'm off my chair and screaming as Landry picks up a charge and is rather fired up himself.
8:33pm: Harden misses two free throws, and Brook Lopez responds with a lay-up and a foul - ASU's ninth - on the other end. This is going to be a great win if we hang on to the 46-42 lead at the eight-minute break, but let's not forget that between their free-throw struggles and foul and rebounding troubles in this half, the Devils are visibly wiped from their double-overtime tilt with the Bears.
8:36pm: Brook converts the and-one, and our 47-42 lead is our biggest of the night. Pendergraph comes back into the game with over seven minutes to go and four fouls. I think Arizona State realizes this one is slipping away from them and it's now-or-never time. We need to go right at him and left-right-left-right-left-right-sit-down him out of there.
8:39pm: Brook's fouled by Hardin - his third - grabbing a defensive rebound and splits a pair from the line. We're stomp-stomp clap-clap whooshing in the casino, folks. Just an incredible comeback here.
8:41pm: We're on a 10-0 run, leading 50-42 with 5:38 left. Brook's been an absolute monster during this stretch (last taking an easy lay-up against Pendergraph), and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say this half could earn him an additional $200 or $300K come Draft Day. [Edit post-game: Yup, I suspected it and the numbers confirm it. He's scored every single point during this stretch. And not on some fluke jumpers either: four lay-ups and two free throws. No Pendergraph and one Brook Lopez represent the difference here.]
8:44pm: Goods drives the right baseline, picks up number four on Abbott and hits both the freebies. It's now 52-43 with five minutes left. Our defense is the best I've ever seen us play, and if we keep progressing like this, it could end up the best in college basketball. No exaggeration. Arizona State has 13 points this half on 23 percent shooting.
8:50pm: ASU's ten-game winning streak is about to come to an end and we're about to win this half by something like 45-20, but I think I just saw the most impressive sequence yet. Arizona State gets the ball down 59-47 with three minutes left after an entry pass to Brook doesn't quite make it there. [An anomaly, we only end up with nine turnovers - only two in the second half! - which has to be a season-low.] They obviously want to get a good shot off as quickly as possible. Heck, any shot. They're down 12 with three minutes left. We force a 35-second call. That is absolutely phenomenal. The offense is still inconsistent, and 80 percent of the talk on the board and my talk with my friends and centers upon that, but the defense has been rock-solid every game. If you buy that "defense wins championships", we might be one of the most underrated teams in the country.
8:57pm: A little excitement from my neighbor and new friend here, Class of '75, as Anthony Goods hits a meaningless three with 10 seconds left and the Devils put up a three with two seconds to go. You see, the score is 68-52 and the over-under is 122. But Shipp misses at the buzzer and 68-52 is good for your final. Brook leads all scorers with 19 points on 18 shots - he made six of his last eight, and more importantly, 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive. Goods added 14 on 4-of-11 shooting - welcome back - and how about Mitch's 3-for-4? On the other end, Arizona State shoots just 26 percent in the second and 35 percent overall. We outboard them 23-7 on our defensive glass, and hang within 18-16 on theirs. Just a physically dominant performance in the defensive paint. We're finally the defensive presence fans had hoped for all along; it reminds me of Syracuse the year they won the national title. Enjoy the break until next weekend guys. You earned it.
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