Story by Justin Toscano
No. 16 Arizona State went into Stanford looking to regain its mojo and mount another winning streak. Not so fast.
Instead, the Cardinal snapped a 12-game losing streak against ranked opponents with an 86-77 win. The Sun Devils will go for a road split when they play at Cal on Saturday.
The Sun Devils are now 14-4, 2-4 in Pac-12 play.
Here are some takeaways from tonight’s game:
- Let’s go big picture for this first one. The Sun Devils received “Overrated” chants at Stanford. Anything wrong with that? I say no. This team reached No. 3 in the nation, a feat that’ll be remembered for a very long time. That said, the group overachieved and played out of its mind. They spent a large majority of the non-conference slate shooting over 50 percent and draining 3-pointers at a ridiculous rate. They were efficient. They were lethal. They also played great defense and hadn’t yet been exposed badly inside. And the times they were — against Kansas State, Xavier and Kansas — they made up for it with great offensive and getting to the free throw line. I didn’t believe the Sun Devils were a top 5 team, but this season is still progress. They’re ahead of schedule. Recruiting is blossoming. They have a lot to be proud of, because the season isn’t over, and March is only a couple months away. If ASU can steady itself, it’ll assure an NCAA Tournament bid and a decent seed.
- At the beginning of the season, it looked as if Romello White and De’Quon Lake would make all the difference inside. But they haven’t. They’re progressing, but the Sun Devils are still getting killed down low. The Cardinal had 46 points in the paint and outrebounded ASU by 14 boards. They pulled down 13 offensive rebounds and scored 12 second-chance points. Those numbers are tough to look at if you’re ASU. That can’t happen. On Tuesday, Evans said the guards need to help rebound. It didn’t matter on Wednesday, though.
- Evans went through a slump last month. Now it’s Tra Holder’s turn. He was held scoreless for a period of time, but ended with nine points. It took 3-14 shooting, though. He didn’t have it last weekend against the Oregon Schools. Kodi Justice said, “We wouldn’t be where we are without him,” after the win over Oregon State. That’s true. The Sun Devils need Holder if they want to break out of this funk.
- Here’s the funny thing about Wednesday night: ASU got four players in double figures. White (19), Evans (13), Kodi Justice (14) and Remy Martin (11) all chipped in while Holder was silenced, but it wasn’t enough. ASU shot 43 percent and was just 8-21 from 3-point range. Another funny stat: The Sun Devils had eight turnovers, five less than Stanford. That said, Stanford scored four more points off of ASU’s blunders.
- ASU went on a 15-2 run to cut Stanford’s lead to two late in the second half. With about four minutes to play, the Sun Devils were down three points. I’m sure they’d take that considering how they played the rest of the game. Then they couldn’t score and the game got out of hand from there. The positive: The sense of urgency in coming from behind will serve them well down the stretch. The negative: You can’t always allow yourself to be dug into a hole.
- Bobby Hurley has received credit for his team’s turnaround, but now he’ll need to find a way to fix what has happened. The next stretch of games will tell us a bit more of how good of a coach he is, or can be. No, I will not call for his head. That’d be outrageous. But a mark of a good coach is how his teams respond in times of adversity. The odd thing about that is, during non-conference, his team played a lot of tough opponents and won close games. The Sun Devils are used to adversity in that sense, but now, their season could be sputtering a bit and they need to bounce back. That starts with Hurley.
- Stanford shot 51 percent. Much of that was due to its good post presence, but that number speaks for itself.
- There’s a large chance the Sun Devils won’t be in next week’s top 25. That’s crazy. They were essentially playing for No. 1 when they faced Arizona in Tucson on Dec. 30. They could be unranked by Jan. 22. Yikes. Stanford has been playing well and will battle Arizona for sole possession of the Pac-12 this weekend. That should be taken into account with this loss. I could see the Sun Devils being ranked 24 or 25, maybe 23. But with their steady decline and the fact that nobody believed in them to begin with, they could fall out of the polls entirely.
- Now, what does this loss mean? Is ASU a bad team? Have they been exposed? Those are all valid questions. I don’t believe the Sun Devils are bad. The middle of the top 25 is a great spot for them because it symbolizes progress, and I don’t believe they’re talented enough to consistently be in the top 10 just yet. They’ll get there eventually, though, with their success in recruiting. ASU has been a bit exposed by teams who have played zone defense and looked to slow the pace. Here’s the thing: If ASU can’t rebound, it’s rhythm gets thrown off completely because it needs to play defense longer, and sometimes, that means giving up a bucket and not being able to get out and run in transition. The Sun Devils have to combat the zone by learning to consistently attack it. Rebounding better should help them be able to be able to get out in the open court. If you’re a fan who wants to press the panic button, here’s what I’d say: This team has issues and holes, but it’s still set up to play in March and that signifies progress for this program.