What started as an aberration has turned into a trend. Arizona State's defense, stanch all season, crumbled in on itself in the second half of last Saturday's loss to Arizona and failed to recover in its follow up outing Thursday.
Though there was a long stretch of stellar effort on the defensive end in the second half, it wasn't enough to outshine what otherwise was a mediocre performance on that end of the floor in the Sun Devils' 78-70 loss to Cal at Wells Fargo Arena, in which they gave up a season high in points.
Jamal Boykin had a career-high 25 points to go with 10 rebounds and Jerome Randle also had 25 points for the Golden Bears in the win. Cal is now 6-2 and in sole possession of first place in the Pac-10.
"You have to give Cal a great deal of credit, they are a hard team to guard," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "They score consistently against most everybody, they are a high octane team. But having said that, for us to have a chance, for us to come away with a victory, we have to be much better at the defensive end of the floor. We're not going to get into a shootout with them this year and prevail."
In a somewhat surprising move, Sendek benched a slumping point guard Derek Glasser for 12 minutes in the second half after Cal had a 7-0 run to start the period, giving it a 47-33 lead.
With a lineup that consistent primarily of freshmen, including reserves Demetrius Walker and Victor Rudd, the Sun Devils stormed back on the strength of improved energy on the defensive end and some strong 3-point shooting by Ty Abbott to eventually cut their deficit to just one, at 67-66 with 3:23 left.
"We were looking for a spark," Sendek said. "We fell behind by 16 just after the first media timeout I think it was, 15:50 (actually 14:47) maybe to go in the game. As things were unraveling for us we had to try something. We had to get an energy spark and I thought the group that went in there fought hard. We eventually cut the lead to one and then needed a stop and gave up the corner [3-pointer]."
Jorge Gutierrez's 3-pointer on a set play from the corner following the final media timeout gave the Golden Bears a 70-66 lead and ASU was unable to get it back to within a single possession.
Abbott led the Sun Devils with 20 points, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range, and he also had eight rebounds, while Eric Boateng had his best effort of the season with 19 points and 13 rebounds and Trent Lockett at 15 points.
The loss drops ASU to 14-7 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-10.
"I don't really know," Abbott said, when asked what the Sun Devils need to do better defensively. "Two games in a row we've had three guys score 20 points or more and Jerome Randle, a point guard, and Nic Wise (another point guard) came in and hit big shots on us. We've got to figure out a way to slow them down."