HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Perfect Devils sink UA hopes

2012-03-05T00:00:00Z 2012-03-05T00:13:51Z Greg Hansen: Perfect Devils sink UA hopesGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 05, 2012 12:00 am  • 

TEMPE

These were Arizona State's point totals in its last dozen Pac-12 games: 43, 44, 47, 49, 50, 54, 54, 56, 57, 57, 69 and 71.

And these were ASU's shooting percentages in those 12 games: .342, .358, .373, .381, .383, 386, .408, .417, .462, .487, .490 and .545.

These numbers are what Sean Miller defines not as a trend but "pretty much in cement," what the Sun Devils do and don't do.

They don't score well. They don't shoot well. And they don't win much. In that period, the Sun Devils were the latter-day gang that couldn't shoot straight. My Lord, in one of those games they trailed 36-8 at half, and in another 34-16.

But on Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena, the Sun Devils had a ready mix that stiffed Arizona's NCAA tournament chances.

ASU had been a poor free-throw shooting team. On Sunday it made its last 15 in succession.

ASU had been a team without a point guard, a team that had committed an outrageous 481 turnovers to its opponents' 325. And yet on Sunday the Sun Devils committed but 10.

On Sunday, against unimaginable pressure, the Sun Devils scored on their last seven possessions - all of them! - which is like a golfer winning a tournament with a hole-in-one and an eagle on the last two holes.

So, yes, ASU won, 87-80, a performance of such magnitude that it's unlikely Duke, North Carolina or the San Antonio Spurs could've beaten the Sun Devils on Sunday afternoon in Tempe.

Arizona State played the Perfect Game, which deserves capital letters. It shot .558 from the field and it shot .917 from the foul line. It was as unexpected as the stoic Herb Sendek taking a victory lap around Wells Fargo Arena, slapping hands and bumping fists with what few ASU fans bothered to show up.

"ASU got 87 on us," Miller said in a hallway adjacent to his team's locker room, which was a five-word statement that might've sufficed for an entire press conference. What else did he need to say?

Do you realize that dating to the 2004-05 season, the Sun Devils have scored 87 or more points in a regulation conference game just three times?

It was like a soccer team scoring 10 goals in a game.

UA wing Brendon Lavender sizzled on Sunday, making six of eight three-point attempts, and yet ASU had three players better than that. You almost had to look at the roster to identify them.

In attempting to explain what happened, Lavender politely complimented ASU freshman Jonathan Gilling by referring to him as "No. 31" rather than using his name. Did he even know it? Who outside of Tempe would've known it anyway?

Lavender also spoke of 7-foot Sun Devil center Jordan Bachynski by saying, "The big man was definitely a key," rather than attempt to pronounce "Bachynski." Maybe he should've called him "Mister." Mr. B blocked six shots. It seemed like 16.

"Through 17 games, you could make the argument we have been the Pac-12's best defensive team statistically," Miller said. On Sunday, the Wildcats might as well have been life-sized cardboard cutouts.

Until Sunday, you could've made a decent case that Arizona State was the second-best college team in the greater Phoenix area. The Grand Canyon Antelopes are 19-7 and have won nine consecutive games.

But on Sunday, ASU was the best team in the state.

Miller doesn't dodge much, if anything. He referred to his team's fading chances to be invited to the NCAA tournament by saying, "We're not good enough to be an NCAA tournament team right now."

And they won't be unless they whip UCLA on Thursday and upset Washington or Cal a day later. And maybe that wouldn't be enough anyway. Losing on Sunday vaporized the Wildcats' road victory against Cal, and it knocked them from the favorable side of everyone's Bracketology mathematics.

"I'm not saying we've waved the white flag," said Miller. "We've got a bye for a reason. But you have to earn your way into the tournament; there are no politics."

Sunday's loss magnified Arizona's shortcomings. It is a team with no size and no depth, a team susceptible to someone like Bachynski shutting off the paint and turning Arizona's inside game to mush.

It is a team whose freshman guards, Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner, have been slow to develop. Do you realize that Johnson and Turner have scored in double figures simultaneously in only one conference game, a walkover at Utah?

On Sunday the two combined to shoot 2-for-11 and commit seven turnovers.

This is an Arizona team in a transition year, one that has somehow won 21 games and somehow had a chance to beat ASU with 30 seconds remaining on an afternoon the Sun Devils were almost flawless.

In retrospect, this is about as good as Miller and his team could've done in the regular season. If you can't beat the Sun Devils when you absolutely, positively must, the letters that belong next to your name are NIT and not NCAA.

Pac-12 tournament bracket

All games on Fox Sports Arizona except championship (Channel 13)

Wednesday, March 7

• No. 8 Washington State vs. No. 9 Oregon State, 1 p.m.

• No. 5 UCLA vs. No. 12 USC, 3:30 p.m.

• No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 10 ASU, 7 p.m.

• No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Utah, 9:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 8

• WSU-OSU winner vs. No. 1 Washington, 1 p.m.

• UCLA-USC winner vs. No. 4 Arizona, 3:30 p.m.

• Stanford-ASU winner vs. No. 2 California, 7 p.m.

• Colorado-Utah winner vs. No. 3 Oregon, 9:30 p.m.

Friday March 9

• WSU/OSU-UW winner vs UCLA/USC-Arizona winner, 7 p.m.

• Stanford/ASU-Cal winner vs. CU/Utah-Oregon winner, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday March 10

• Championship, 4:15 p.m.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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