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It certainly wasn't a marquee match up, nor was it pretty for the most part. But thanks to an incredible three point play from Chris Colvin in the final seconds it ended up being an exciting one as the Sun Devils get the 56-52 win over USC Saturday evening at Wells Fargo Arena halting their four-game skid. Byron Wesley did all he could for the Trojans with 22 points and seven rebounds while Jordan Bachynski lead the way for ASU with 19 points and nine boards of his own.
The Devils made a commitment early to get it inside, feeding Bachynski for ASU's first six points. And when Bachynski hit the bench, Arizona State kept the same formula as Ruslan Pateev was able to rack up a quick five points of his own. With this plan of attack, the Devils were able to shoot 60% from the field in the first half and extend their lead to as much as 11.
"[The guards] placed the ball in the perfect spot where I was able to be effective," Bachynski said.
Sadly, that cushion dwindled as those pesky turnovers began to rear their heads. The Devils totaled 10 in the first half with five of those coming from Colvin.
Yet all would be forgiven with one acrobatic basket.
The Trojans came out of the locker room and instantly began lighting it up from downtown, overtaking the lead and causing fans to get restless. Bachynski recaptured the momentum with some uncharacteristically sharp free throw shooting doubled with a few strong post moves but just as things were looking up the Devils' offense went silent.
Then, after over seven minutes without a single point, Colvin brought the arena to their feet. With the clock winding down, the much-maligned guard cut to the rim, absorbing the contact of two defenders while draining a ridiculous floater. Colvin then put the cherry on top by sinking his free throw attempt, extending the league to an unreachable four points with only 19 seconds remaining.
"[Colvin] made a difficult shot," Head Coach Herb Sendek said. "We were fortunate that it went in...Just as significantly, he made the free throw. It's a big difference being up four in that situation as opposed to three."
With the win, ASU completes the sweep of the Trojans for the first time since 1995. The Devils now have a week off and a boost of confidence before next Sunday's season finale against the Arizona Wildcats.
"If were able to continue to cut down on our turnovers and continue to crash the boards...we're going to have a great game on Sunday," Bachynski said.
Other Game Notes
The Sun Devils put up a valiant effort without their second leading scorer Carrick Felix (flu) but the Bruins size proved to be too much to handle in the second half as they get the 66-59 win at Wells Fargo Arena Thursday, extending ASU's losing streak to four. UCLA's Lazeric Jones had an answer for every one of Arizona State's shots, leading all scorers with 20 points while Jonathan Gilling did his part for the home team with 17 of his own.
"We had any number of point blank shots...that we didn't capitalize on," Head Coach Herb Sendek said. "We had opportunities in a close game to put points on the board that we didn't seize."
But from the tip, it looked like things might go their way. It took the Devils less than five minutes to match their eight point first half in last week's Washington State game and the offense seemed to be locked in with Chris Colvin at his best. The streaky guard had five assists in the first seven minutes and looked to be in full control.
"I'm really pleased with Chris' continued progress," Sendek said. "We essentially can't take him out of the game...he has the opportunity to play through a lot of things and I think that's helping him."
Then, all of a sudden, the Devils couldn't buy a shot.
Like they seem to do every game, Arizona State went on one of their all-too-familiar cold streaks, missing 11 straight shots and assisting the Bruins in an 11-0 run. Yet when the dust cleared the Devils were still in the thick of it and after a big three from Gilling and a powerful Jordan Bachynski dunk, ASU went into the locker room only down 25-24.
After the brief intermission though, Joshua Smith and the Bruins bigs flipped the switch, combining for 20 second half points in the paint on 55.6% shooting. And with Bachynski playing careless basketball (game-high five turnovers) and Ruslan Pateev racking up five fouls in only 14 minutes, Sendek was stuck between a rock and a hard place when it came to defensive options.
"We fought down low," Colvin said, "[Smith] just had the best of us."
"[Josh Smith] is a tremendous force inside," Sendek said. "We had a similar challenge when we played earlier in Anaheim."
The Devils did have some chances to take the lead late, coming as close as within four points with less than nine minutes left but instead the team couldn't translate a handful wide open looks to easy buckets. Trent Lockett was the main culprit missing eight of his 11 attempts from the field making it clear to fans that he is still far from 100%.
"[My ankle] is going to be an issue but at the end of the day I'm still out there playing," Lockett said. "I still have to be effective."
Arizona State goes back to the drawing board Friday before Saturday's 6:00 pm home slate against the Pac-12 cellar-dwelling USC Trojans.
Other Game Notes
Even as we near closer to the end, the Sun Devils (8-19) still haven't found their true identity as a team. So while some may say that they have nothing left to play for, Trent Lockett and company could find a big chemistry boost if they're able to upset UCLA (15-12) Thursday evening at Wells Fargo Arena (6:30 MST).
The Bruins are a team that hasn't met any expectations this season, especially their own. But that doesn't mean they're planning to roll over and die to a Sun Devil squad they likely see as soft. Still, a team like ASU can be most dangerous when the expectations are virtually non-existent
Will the Devils be able to end their three game skid against a middle of the pack Bruins squad? Find out by tuning into FoxSportsArizona.com online or listening live as always to KTAR 620 Sports wonderful play-by-play.
For fans of the maroon and gold, there has been few highlights in the Sun Devil's 8-19 basketball season. For me though, there is one that sticks out above the thin pickings: their Los Angeles road trip.
In the thick of a four game skid, Herb Sendek made the shocking announcement to suspend three key players (Keala King, Kyle Cain and Chris Colvin) for the team's first Pac-12 road series. But instead of just rolling over like most expected, they pulled out a remarkable 62-53 win against USC shooting a blistering 61% from the field. Yes, they did end up losing by 17 to UCLA only two days later but that was more a product of fatigue catching up to a roster with essentially only six players in rotation instead of uninspired basketball.
Nearly two months later, it would be easy to make a case that those two games were the peak of ASU's play this season. Now, with UCLA heading into town Thursday (6:30 pm MST), can this team revive that flair with only three games left to play? That answer is most likely a no unless they can contain the behemoth of a man known as Josh Smith.
Smith tore up the Devils in their last go around, logging 18 points in a mere 21 minutes off the bench. Working in ASU's favor is the fact that he's had an uncharacteristic past four games averaging only 8.5 points and six boards across that span. It will be intriguing to see how Jordan Bachynski 2.0 matches up against the robust big as he's probably the only man on the roster who has a decent chance of slowing him.
Putting all the focus on Smith though puts the Devils at risk of being owned by another excellent Sophomore Bruin, Travis Wear. Wear dropped 16 on Arizona State back in January and has been the hotter of the two of late, racking up double digit points in three of his past four games. If I had to bet, fans should expect to see more of Kyle Cain than usual if Head Coach Herb Sendek is planning on corralling this much larger opposing lineup.
As for USC on Saturday (6:00 pm), this is one the Devils HAVE to win. Yes, I know what you're thinking: "There is no such thing as a must win for a team who most likely wont total double digits in the victory column." That's where you're wrong.
There a good amount of folks clamoring for Sendek's head after a second straight dismal season. Now I'd be the first to stand up and defend the sixth year head coach as I truly do believe he is the best this university can get. But if the defense of "it's not his fault, it's the talent level he's working with" is to hold true, he has to find a way to defeat an inferior 6-21 Trojans team on his home court.
In their first duel, Trent Lockett and Carrick Felix combined to score only 12 less points than the entire USC lineup managed. Odds are that wont happen again but that scoring could be balanced out by Chris Colvin, who is playing his best basketball of the year averaging nine points a game over his past 11 games.
And when you look up and down the Trojan roster, there is really no rational reason not to be hopeful for a win. The Devils match up splendidly with each of their most-talented players. Their second biggest threat, Mesa-product Aaron Fuller, is out for the season after shoulder surgery and teams have been keying in on Maurice Jones, holding him to a horrendous 20.3% shooting over the past 13 games.
It's numbers like that that have be forecasting a 1-1 weekend for the Devils, giving them some momentum heading into next Sunday's season finale against the rival Arizona Wildcats.
An 8-19 season is hard for anyone to swallow. Now imagine having to witness it all firsthand from the bench.