Greg Hansen: Nothing is getting easier for Cats

2014-02-15T00:00:00Z 2014-02-15T00:26:56Z Greg Hansen: Nothing is getting easier for CatsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

TEMPE

In the old days, in the movies, they called it “being in the soup.”

In 2014 college basketball “in the soup” means Jahii Carson has buckled your defense with two straight killer drives, you’re down by six, you can’t make a foul shot — or any shot — so you call a timeout to stop the momentum.

The Sun Devil crowd is so loud you’d swear you’re on the runway at Luke Air Force Base.

It is 30 years of frustration being shed. If you’re an Arizona fan, you’d almost rather have a septuple bypass.

You will get no pity in the Sun Devils’ house and on Friday night, Valentine’s Day, there was no love for the Wildcats, who often played more like the nation’s No. 200 team than the No.  2 team.

But if there was one thing Arizona had conquered this year it was momentary distress.

It survived Friday’s regulation, tied at 51, even though it had the last shot and Aaron Gordon fired an air ball.

It survived Fridays’ first overtime, tied at 57, even though it had the last shot, and Nick Johnson misfired.

But Arizona’s good fortune flickered and died when ASU’s Jordan Bachynski blocked his eighth shot of the game, which was as good a way as any to describe the Sun Devils’ 69-66 double-OT victory.

Arizona was blocked. The road ahead appears unfriendly and full of trouble. The party stops here.

It was almost identical to the UA’s first loss, at Cal, when the Haas Pavilion crowd twice rushed the court. On Friday, it was another double-rush, this time by the Sun Devil fans, celebrating the most unexpected turn of events after 50 minutes of mayhem.

After misfiring all night, after blowing leads in regulation and overtime, the Sun Devils made their last four shots against, statistically, Arizona’s best defensive team of the last 50 years.

Jermaine Marshall, a 23-year-old fifth-year transfer from Penn State, had not scored for almost 15 minutes, smothered by Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But in the final 90 seconds, Marshall was Kevin Durant and LeBron James, burying a pair of threes and driving through the UA defense for the game-winner.

“We knew it would be a 15-round heavyweight fight,” said ASU coach Herb Sendek. “And it certainly turned out that way.”

Give Sendek credit for figuring his team was a heavyweight. ASU was 1-9 against ranked teams the last four years, and has been playing in the lightweight division for so long, against Arizona, losing 31 of its last 38 games, that Arizona often stomped all over the Sun Devils like something out of Jurassic Park.

But this time ASU wasn’t part of Arizona’s large footprint.

“Man, it’s unexplainable,” said Carson, “especially with them being No. 2 in the country. That just puts the icing on the cake for me. I have never beat them. It’s unexplainable, man.”

Well, not quite. There is a explanation for Arizona’s misery.

The Wildcats shot .359 from the field, which usually gets you beat. They were worse in its previous loss, shooting .323 at Cal. And they were again woeful from the foul line on Friday, missing 16 of 30 attempts.

No matter how well the Wildcats played on defense, and for much of the game they were outstanding, they couldn’t shake ASU because they couldn’t make a killer bucket.

Johnson missed 15 shots. He missed 13 at Cal. That’s clearly the formula for beating Arizona.

Had Friday’s game been Olympic skating, the judges would’ve given both teams a 3.2 on the 1-to-10 scale for artistry. Both teams spent most of the night on ice.

But that doesn’t matter to the Sun Devils, whose best home victory the last 25 years had been a 1992 triumph over No. 5 Arizona.

“No words can explain the joy we feel right now,” said Bachynski. “This is huge for us, for our resume, and our goals for the postseason tournament. It was huge for us.”

The Sun Devils and Wildcats both have six remaining Pac-12 games, four of them out-of-state. If you survive that gauntlet at .500, somehow winning three, you would figure Arizona would still be in play for a No. 2 or No. 3 NCAA tournament seed, and the Sun Devils would surely be in the field of 68 without much worry.

But the problem with counting those victories in advance is that almost every Pac-12 road game casts unusual heat on the visitor.

When UA coach Sean Miller reviews Friday’s video he will gnaw on the fact that his bench did not score a point. Arizona’s subs were 0 for 8 from the field.

He will continue to work on his club’s wounded psyche as it relates to free-throw shooting. And he will look at the Colorado-Utah and Oregon State-Oregon road trips and immediately understand life won’t be getting any easier.

“In terms of college basketball, that’s as good as it gets,” Sendek said. “When guys compete the way they did tonight, there’s no loser.”

That’s always easy for the winning coach to say. But when you’re the coach whose team couldn’t get a defensive stop in the final 94 seconds, blowing a four-point lead, there is no consolation.

As Arizona has learned at ASU and Cal, you can go from a layup to being laid up when you least expect it.

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

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