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Cal Basketball

ASU preview: Sun Devils Are Finishing Strong

March 2, 2022
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Cal plays at Arizona State on Thursday night and the Sun Devils the Bears face is a far cry from the team they clobbered 74-50 in Berkeley two months ago.

That loss dropped ASU to a 5-8 record which would become 8-15 (4-9 Pac-12). It looked like a lost season in Tempe.

But the Sun Devils' fortunes have made a U-turn and now at 12-16, 8-10, and riding a two-game win streak and five wins in six games, they have become the Team Nobody Wants to Play in the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas. 

"Arizona State is a completely different team than earlier in the season," CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein recently tweeted. "Wouldn't want to play this team in Las Vegas in two weeks."

The main reason for the turnaround might be as simple as the players getting to know one another. Coach Bobby Hurley brought in nine new players in a major roster overhaul. Then COVID played havoc with the schedule and the program virtually shut down.  That loss to Cal was ASU’s only game in a 24-day stretch covering late December and early January. 

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Bobby Huirley

“We have been through a lot as a team and have talked about the adversities we have been through,” Hurley said this week. He told his team,  “You played one of the toughest schedules in college basketball. That has prepared us to play our best basketball of the season right now.”

Jay Heath, a 6-3 guard who transferred from Boston College, has overcome a slow start to become a force on offense, and he was a major factor as the Sun Devils swept the always treacherous “Mountain Trip” last weekend. He was 14-of-21 (.667) from the floor and 6-of-11 (.545) from three and posted 18 points at Colorado on Thursday and followed that with a season-high 20 at Utah on Saturday.

Every one of those was needed against the Utes, as the Sun Devils blew a 14-point lead and needed a layup by Marreon Jackson (another transfer, Toledo) with six seconds left to give them a 63-61 victory.

DJ Horne, another transfer natch, (Illinois State) is leading the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game, but he missed the Utah game with an undisclosed (non-COVID) illness. ASU has said nothing about his availability this weekend

Help came from many quarters.  Luther Muhammad, who sat out last year after transferring from Ohio State,  was averaging five points per game entering last weekend, but was 9-of-15 from the floor on the road trip, posting 15 points at Colorado and 10 points at Utah. 

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D.J. Horne (0)

Jalen Graham, a 6-9 junior, had 15 points, five above his average, against the Utes.

The defense has been a major factor in the recent run of success. ASU in the past six games is holding opponents to just 37.6 percent (123-of-327) from the field, 36-of-148 24.3 percent from three, and 59.5 points. 

Notes

  • Cal leads the series 74-50, but prior to January’s victory, the Bears had lost to ASU seven  straight times.
  • In that game Cal’s defense limited Arizona State to 32.8 per cent from the floor, 17.6 percent from three-point range. 
  • Marcus Bagley, a preseason All-Pac-12 performer according to many outlets, has played only three games because of an injury and COVID protocols. 
  • Kimani Lawrence played in a school-record 133rd game against Utah. 
  • ASU has six players averaging double figures in scoring, but that includes Bagley.
  • ASU has been outrebounded by its opponents, 40.0 rpg to 35.8.
  • ASU completed a five-game stretch prior to the Washington game where it played at  No. 16 USC, at No. 33 Arizona and then at home vs. No. 19 USC, vs. No.3 UCLA and vs. No. 4 Arizona in 15 days. It marked the first time any Pac-12 crew had played five straight ranked teams since the 2001-02 Sun Devils played six straight.
  • Hurley is one of ten current coaches to win an NCAA title as a player and the only one to do so twice (at Duke, 1991-92).
  • ASU had 12 more made field goals at Stanford on Jan. 22, but lost, 79-78.

ARIZONA NEXT

Following Thursday’s game, the Bears go a few miles south to take on No. 2 Arizona on Saturday afternoon in Tucson.

The Wildcats (26-3, 16-2) locked up the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament when they blew out second-place USC, 91-71, on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

They did lose at Colorado last Saturday, but they obviously quickly put that one behind them. 

“It’s March, and we had an opportunity,” UofA coach Tommy Lloyd said. “You have to go grab opportunities in March, and our guys did a great job of that. We played a good Colorado team that kind of put us in our place on Saturday and we got home and had to lick our wounds a little bit, and it was great to be back out on the court on Tuesday. We were hungry and we needed this, and it was a great atmosphere, and then our guys obviously rose to the occasion.”

Lloyd, who took over the troubled program from the shifty Sean Miller, is a favorite for conference coach of the year. Five crucial players transferred out of Tucson when Miller was fired, but Lloyd restocked the cupboard, 

Bennedict Mathurin, a candidate for conference player of the year, leads the team in scoring at 17.1 ppg. He shoots 46.5 percent from the floor. 

With little to play for the ‘Cats might take it easy on the Bears, but even using their front-line players sparingly, Arizona is formidable. 

Related:

Bears Hammer Cardinal on Senior Night

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