TEMPE — Coach Herb Sendek walked out of an ASU practice this week, leaving his assistants to direct the Sun Devils. He eventually returned and sat in the balcony of the team’s practice facility, shouting instructions down below.
Maybe his actions stemmed from frustration. Or maybe it was an effort to spark his team, which tonight faces the No. 1 team in the country, rival Arizona. In 21 years of coaching, Sendek has two victories over No. 1 teams, both coming at North Carolina State.
From those experiences, he relayed this story:
“Believe it or not, just to show you the science of all this and the predictability of it, I remember when we beat North Carolina at Chapel Hill when they were No. 1 in the country (in 1998), and the day before we had one of the worst practices you’ve ever seen,” Sendek said.
“And we went over there the next afternoon, and one of our guards hit eight threes, and I think our team was like 32 of 32 from the foul line. So is there some foreshadowing or some way to predict (this)? I’ve learned long ago, there are too many variables.”
Truth is, tonight’s Pac-12 showdown at McKale Center might come at a bad time for the Sun Devils (13-4, 2-2 Pac-12). They’re coming off Sunday’s 15-point loss at UCLA. Star point guard Jahii Carson is in a shooting slump, and second-leading scorer Jermaine Marshall is questionable because of a groin issue.
UA (17-0, 4-0) is versatile and long, quick and disruptive.
According to statistician Ken Pomeroy, UA makes opponents work the ball an average of 20 seconds per possession before getting up a shot (which ranks second only to Syracuse and its troublesome 2-3 zone). And even then, the Wildcats hold opponents to 37.1 percent shooting.
The bad news for ASU: It’s just one way UA can win.
The Wildcats have yet to be out-rebounded this season. ASU associate head coach Eric Musselman said a missed shot is pretty much part of their offense simply because Gordon (who quick-jumps like former Suns star Shawn Marion) and freshman reserve Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are so active on the offensive glass.
“They rebound like an NBA team,” said Musselman, a former NBA head coach. “And I know people have said they’re not very deep; I think they’re really deep because they have seven guys who can score in double figures.”
On ASU’s side: Carson often plays well in big games, especially away from home. His top five scoring games over the past two seasons (25 points or above) all took place on the road or on a neutral court. But the sophomore has struggled recently. Over the past five games, Carson has averaged 14.4 points and 1.8 assists, shooting 34.8 percent from the field. Against UCLA, he finished with nine points on 4-of-17 shooting.
“I’m not playing the best basketball I can play,” Carson said. “I’m not even coming close to the energy or the effort that I know I can bring, the scoring or the dishing out I know I can bring.”