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.