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February 24, 2013

NCAA hopes take hit in Washington loss

Jahii Carson's body language told the story.

Arizona State's star freshman guard entered the post-game press conference with his head bowed and face set to scowl.

Losing always bothers Carson, a prodigy who wears his competitiveness visibly. Following Saturday's harmful 68-59 loss to Washington in front of 10004 fans at Wells Fargo Arena, he was especially apoplectic.

The Sun Devils' NCAA at-large hopes were to some degree derailed with the loss, which dropped them to 20-8 overall and into fifth place in the Pac-12 at 9-6. It may take multiple unlikely wins in the final weeks of the season to get back on track.

"We've got three away games against some of the better Pac-12 teams and we've just got to make sure we take care of business with that or our NCAA (Tournament) hopes are gone," senior guard Carrick Felix said.

The odds of a bye to open the Pac-12 Tournament also appear bleak, as ASU has fallen a game behind Cal four the fourth spot with a more difficult three game schedule to finish the regular season ahead.

There were differences, but in one key way, Saturday's game played out similarly to ASU's thrilling 96-92 loss to the Huskies in Seattle earlier this year. Washington out-rebounded ASU by 16 in that game and got a lot of second chance opportunities, which is one of its hallmarks.

"I thought the primary difference, just like our first game, was rebounding," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "They missed 28 shots from the field and got 14 of them back. You don't have to be a math major to know that's 50 percent and way too high. I thought their perimeter people did a really good job of driving the basketball and consistently made shots up over us. Just using their length and size and they were really in a good rhythm."

The Huskies built their 32-28 first half advantage with the help of eight offensive rebounds and a nine rebound advantage.

Sendek went with several atypical roster combinations to attempt to address defensive and rebounding issues, including going with his two 7-footers, senior Ruslan Pateev -- who earned his first start of the season on senior night -- and junior Jordan Bachynski together for a stretch in the second half.

That move didn't work, and Sendek called on freshman post Eric Jacobsen with his team trailing by 12 points with 9:54 remaining, inserting him at center and taking both 7-footers off the floor.

Jacobsen's activity level at both ends but particularly on defense, where he drew several fouls and made hustle plays to generate changes of possession contributed to ASU cutting is deficit to one point, 57-56, at the 3:49 mark.

"Just on both ends of the floor, he gives us a physical presence," Sendek said. "He's strong, he's sturdy. You had to love the way he was posting up; he was low, he was wide. He was demanding the ball. He did a good job on the defensive end as well. Eric was certainly a silver lining for us tonight."

Jacobsen's efforts weren't enough, however, as ASU's season-long struggles at the free throw line persisted. It went 8 of 15 from the line including an important miss by Jacobsen on the front end of a 1-and-1 late in the game which was followed by a missed And-1 conversion attempt by junior Jonathan Gilling.

The Sun Devils missed their final four 3-pointers in the game's final 5:22, several of which were open looks, and couldn't sustain their momentum as a result with the game decided before its final minute.

"They've got a bunch of gorillas, a bunch of athletic guys who go get it (on the glass)," Felix said. "They're definitely good at offensive rebounding, I can tell you that, and they did a hell of a job at it."

After dominating the Huskies in their building earlier this year, Carson had just 10 points -- one of three players with an uncharacteristically low game-high of 10 points on the night -- on 3 of 14 shooting. Though he did have seven assists against just two turnovers, it wasn't enough in connection with his team's other issues, including a 13 rebound disadvantage.

"I busted them up, up there and guys have film so they're of course not going to let me come out and get 30 again," Carson said. "It's just I wasn't really hitting any shots. Wide open shoots I was missing and lay-ups I normally hit were missing. It was just an off night but my teammates stepped up and we got some energy going, but it wasn't enough."


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