Rice: ASU Still Seeking Identity after Collapse in LA

Injuries and Covid notwithstanding, the Devils are playing well, though not winning close games

Posted on February 22, 2021

Wills Rice
  By Wills Rice of Dash Sports TV for SportsPac12

I do not think any fan expected a Marcus Bagley and Josh Christopher-less Sun Devil squad could go on the road and pull out a convincing win, but one nonetheless could have changed the trajectory of this season.

usc logoIn the first game of the LA series, ASU took on projected Top 3 pick Evan Mobley and the Trojans. He and brother Isaiah Mobley dominated the Devils scoring 44 of USC’s 89 points, also snagging 19 of the team’s 36 rebounds, 3-of-5 steals and 4-of-4 blocks.

To say these two young men dominated the Sun Devils is an understatement.

Graham

Jalen Graham did not have much of an answer defensively for the two. So without their two star freshmen, the Devils were forced to go small, giving Jalen House a season-high 28 minutes. Ultimately, ASU did play well considering a large portion of its game plan was missing, but could not get it done late.

The UCLA game was a much different story.

Although Christopher and Bagley remained out, the Sun Devils played as close to a flawless game as they have all year. ASU took control from the opening tip, when Remy Martin notched eight points before the Bruins recorded a bucket. The Devils controlled the lead for 39:21 of the game, and really seemed to dominate the Bruins.

Arizona State still held a two point lead with possession and :48 seconds remaining when Bobby Hurley called a timeout. Then the tide turned.

Following the timeout, the Sun Devils burned only 9 seconds of clock and could not even get a shot up. This was then followed by an immediate foul that sent UCLA to the free throw line with time for the last possession. When ASU ultimately missed its shot, UCLA got fouled with one second to go and ASU lost by one.

This was undoubtedly one of the most frustrating games of the season—for many reasons.

The first being that the Sun Devils played some of their best ball despite being short handed. Second, Jalen Graham played only 7 minutes before fouling out. When stars are out, the everyday starters needed to pick up the slack. Even without that being the case from one of their most influential players, ASU was in the driver’s seat.

And finally, there’s the number of questions still hanging over this team: The group has yet to forge an identity because of injuries, Covid, and a multitude of different reasons.

Martin

For example, last year’s ASU team went 9-3 in games decided in overtime or 5 points or less. This year the Devils are already 3-4 in such games. Although I do not have an answer for this, it is surprising considering Remy Martin is up there with McKinley Wright IV as one of the most experienced players in the Conference.

In a season where freshmen were going to be major contributors, these close games need to be closed out by players like Remy Martin. The end of the game blunder was one we would not expect to see under Hurley or Martin, and can be chalked up as just that—a blunder.

Although the Devils went 0-2 in LA and fell to 7-11 and 4-8 in conference, this very well could have been their two best consecutive games of the year. It is always hard to take positives out of a loss, but with the current state of the season it is needed.

College basketball is unique compared to any other sport, in that a team could go winless in the regular season and still make the NCAA Tournament by winning its conference tournament.

While ASU will not be a favorite in Las Vegas, none of the top four seeds will want to see Devils if they are clicking on all cylinders come Pac-12 Tournament time.

That being said, endings like the one we witnessed against UCLA need to be ironed out. They just won’t get it done, regardless of your record or the opponent you are playing.

You can watch Rice’s Devil Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read his other sports stories and columns at Cronkite Sports.




—Recent Wills Rice Stories—