Preview: Washington at ASU
After a heartbreaking loss at UCLA on Saturday, Arizona State (7-11 overall, 4-8 in conference) is looking to bounce back this week in a rare two-game series against Washington.
The Sun Devils will actually play the Huskies in back-to-back games, both of which will take place in Tempe.
The first matchup, which will be held on Tuesday night, is the makeup game for the contest that was originally scheduled for Jan. 2 in Seattle. ASU missed that game due to COVID issues within the Sun Devil program.
The second matchup, which will occur on Thursday night was already part of ASU’s regular schedule.
The Sun Devils are coming off a particularly tough loss against UCLA. They controlled the game from start to finish, leading for nearly 38 minutes. However, a free throw from Bruins guard Jaylen Clark with 1.4 seconds left gave UCLA its first (and only) lead and proved to be the difference in the 80-79 final.
ASU had done a better job of closing out games in recent weeks, but they reverted to some nasty old habits in the team’s latest setback. Poor clock management, ill-advised shots, and untimely fouls down the stretch proved to be the Sun Devils’ downfall.
Senior guards Remy Martin (25 points) and Alonzo Verge (18 points) carried ASU for most of the contest, but both made some questionable plays in the final minutes of the game, which prompted Verge to take some blame for the team’s loss.
“At the end of the day, it relies on me and Remy, man,” said Verge after Saturday’s contest. “…We’ve got to make better decisions.”
After the game, ASU head coach Bobby Hurley lauded the effort of the short-handed Sun Devils, which played its third straight game with only seven scholarship players. However, he also realized his team let an opportunity slip through its fingers.
“I thought we really played well through a majority of the game,” Hurley said. “And just didn’t make one more play that was necessary in order to win, whether that was a defensive rebound or someone hitting a shot…As the game wound down, we just made too many mistakes in the last two minutes of the game.”
Good news, however, could be on the horizon for ASU.
In a Zoom call with the media on Monday, Hurley said forward Marcus Bagley could return to the lineup in the near future. He said Bagley would go through today's shoot-around and pregame warmups before Tuesday’s contest to see if the freshman could play against UW.
“As long as he doesn’t have any unforeseen setbacks, I would anticipate him getting back soon, and he’s needed,” Hurley explained. “His shooting and rebounding are exactly the piece of the puzzle that’s missing for us right now.”
Josh Christopher, on the other hand, does not appear to be seen the court anytime soon. Hurley said the freshman guard has started physical therapy for his lower back injury and added there was “no specific timetable for his return.”
In the interim, Hurley is trying to stay positive amidst this wacky season and offer hope to his players.
“I talked with the team about trying to gain momentum,” he said. “We potentially still could play six regular-season games if everything goes to plan.”
“I remember a similar scenario my second year at Buffalo; we had just lost a heartbreaking game at the buzzer to go 5-5 in conference play, and then we won six straight from that point. We went on to win two more in the conference tournament. We won eight straight games and went to the NCAA Tournament.”
Washington (5-17 overall, 4-13 conference) enters. Tuesday’s matchup on the heels of a solid 62-51 win over Cal on Saturday night. UW has won two of its last three and seems to be picking up momentum as the regular season draws to an end.
In Saturday’s contest, the Huskies’ defense had its best effort of the season, limiting Cal to 26.7 percent shooting, including 3-of-17 from beyond the arc. For an evening, at least, it looked like the suffocating UW defense from a few seasons ago.
This season, however, has been a different story for the Huskies, who currently sit in 11th place in the conference standings – one spot behind the Sun Devils.
This year’s squad does not have the length or athleticism of previous UW teams, and as a result, the team’s 2-3 zone has not been nearly as effective. In Pac-12 play, they have allowed a league-worst 77.6 points per game on 46 percent shooting. However, the team has made strides on defense in recent weeks, which was evident in Saturday’s win.
On offense, UW has had its fair share of issues as well. The Huskies’ offensive efficiency, which ranks 179th nationally, is dead last in the Pac-12, according to KenPom. On the season, they average only 66.1 points on 41.8 percent shooting, both of which rank near the bottom of the conference.
The Huskies haven’t been particularly effective on the glass, either. They average a league-worst 30.4 rebounds per game.
Similar to ASU, the Huskies feature a guard-centric roster and are led by its perimeter players.
Senior Quade Green sets the tone for UW on both ends of the floor. In an otherwise disappointing season, the savvy point guard has been a bright spot for the Huskies. He leads the team in scoring (14.9 per game) and assists (3.4).
Sharing the starting backcourt are juniors Jamal Bey and Erik Stevenson.
Bey, a 6-foot-6 wing, has made a considerable jump this season. He is the team’s third-leading scorer (9.7 PPG) and probably its best on-ball defender. Stevenson, a transfer from Wichita State, has struggled with his shot for most of the season, but his talent is undeniable. The 6-foot-3 guard, who leads the team in steals, might be their best two-way player.
Starting in UW’s frontcourt is senior Hameir Wright and redshirt sophomore Nate Roberts.
Wright, a versatile 6-foot-9 forward, is capable of playing inside or out. He can get too enamored with the 3-point shot at times—he only shoots 25 percent from beyond the arc—but is a solid rebounder and versatile defender.
Roberts, a well-built 6-foot-11 forward, adds length and athleticism to the front line. He is the team’s leading rebounder (5.7 per game).
The Huskies have a solid bench, and can go ten deep, if necessary.
UW’s second unit is led by sophomore Marcus Tsohonis. The 6-foot-3 combo guard is one of the top scoring reserves (10.5 PPG) in the Pac-12, and also one of the league’s best 3-point shooters (42.6 percent).
Sophomore wing Cole Bajema and junior guard Nate Pryor have also been steady contributors off UW’s bench. Head coach Mike Hopkins recently told reporters that he’s expecting junior forward J’Raan Brooks and sophomore guard Raequan Battle to receive extended minutes this week due to the Huskies’ jam-packed week of games.
G Remy Martin, 6-0, Sr. (20.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.9 APG)
G Holland Woods, 6-1, Sr. (5.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.8 APG)
G Alonzo Verge, 6-3, Sr. (13 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.4 APG)
F Kimani Lawrence, 6-8, Sr. (6.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.6 APG)
F Jalen Graham, 6-9, Jr. (7.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.6 BPG)
G Quade Green, 6-0, Sr. (14.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.4 APG)
G Erik Stevenson, 6-3, Jr. (9.0 PPG, 3.1, 1.8 APG)
G Jamal Bey, 6-6, Jr. (9.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 52.7% 3PT)
F Hameir Wright, 6-9, Sr. (5.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 BPG)
F Nate Roberts, 6-11, R-So. (5.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.5 APG)
Key Stat: ASU is winless (0-5) this season when it scores 68 points or fewer. However, the Sun Devils have a 7-6 record when they score at least 69.
X-Factor: Can Jalen Graham stay out of foul trouble? I try to change up the X-Factor every game. However, after listing Graham’s foul trouble as a key for last Saturday’s game at UCLA; he proceeded to foul out in only six (!) minutes of play.
Graham has had foul issues throughout the season, but the last two games have been particularly tough for the rising sophomore. He has logged a total of only 24 minutes and tallied more fouls (10) than rebounds (7).
Prediction: ASU wins both.
Tuesday, Feb. 23
Time: 7:00 pm MST
Where: Desert Financial Arena – Tempe, Ariz.
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Networks / 98.7 FM
Thursday, Feb. 25
Time: 5:00 pm MST
Where: Desert Financial Arena – Tempe, Ariz.
TV/Radio: FS1 / 620 AM