The monkey is getting heavier and heavier on the backs of the ASU men’s basketball team, and on Sunday night, UA added to the weight.
Despite holding UA star forward Derrick Williams to a season low 11 points, ASU couldn’t pull off the upset and fell to the No. 15 Wildcats, 67-52 at Wells Fargo Arena.
“Arizona was the better team,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “They have been all year. They are having a great year. I think they are one of the best teams in the country and they seem to be proving me right.”
In the team’s first matchup, Williams tore apart the Sun Devils’ interior, scoring 31 points. In the second matchup, ASU (9-15, 1-11 Pac-10) put a huge emphasis on stopping Williams, but that left junior guard Kyle Fogg open all night.
“That was one of our keys coming into the game,” ASU guard Trent Lockett said of Williams. “He really hurt us last game and we wanted to limit his touches in the paint. He did a good job of distributing tonight. When he caught he drew two defenders and made the right pass.”
Fogg, who came in averaging 7.9 points per game, capitalized, connecting on six of nine shots from beyond the arc and tying his career high with 26 points, lifting UA (21-4, 10-2) to victory.
“I give Kyle Fogg a lot of credit,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “He’s done everything our staff has asked. It was nice to see him have a big night from three. Kyle Fogg, this was his night tonight. He did it at both ends. He might have been the game’s best player.”
The Sun Devils came out of the gates hot, connecting on their first three attempts from 3-point land. But that didn’t continue, as ASU hit just one more triple in 12 attempts.
With nothing falling from the perimeter and the Wildcats taking away the paint, offense was a struggle for ASU.
“They do a good job of protecting the paint,” Sendek said. “They are strong, they are physical and do a great job of playing gap defense. They don’t give you a lot of things at the basket. They don’t give you the wiggle room to not capitalize.”
The Wildcats drew a 10-point halftime lead out to 19 points just three minutes into the second half.
ASU responded with a 10-0 run to get within nine points with 12:04 left, but UA pushed the advantage to 16 with just under six minutes to play.
“We strung a couple shots together and we were able to get out in transition,” ASU senior guard Jamelle McMillan said. “It is something we have to keep for a longer stretch. We do in segments, but that’s not enough at this level.”
Now with eight consecutive losses overall and 10 straight Pac-10 defeats, Sendek acknowledged that panic may set in among his players and the fan base.
“It is a natural reaction when you look at our record,” Sendek said. “We all kind of get wide-eyed when we see it. It is like getting a hard kick in the gut; it takes the wind out of you. I’ve been really proud of the way the guys have responded. They are resilient and they work hard. That doesn’t take away from the fact at times it feels like you got a quick jab to the solar plexus.
“It is very challenging to have a lot of confidence when you don’t have a great deal of success. I don’t see our guys hanging our heads or going to see Miss Cleo. They are showing up and they are working. The only way you attain confidence is to keep working.”
After three straight seasons of at least 20 victories, Miller knows ASU has gone through a lot this season. Despite a down season, the program will bounce back.
“Their fans have no reason to panic,” Miller said. “Watching Herb from day one against what they’ve had, sometimes seasons happen like this now. It is not like it used to be. I’m very confident in saying that we will have our hands full playing ASU next year and beyond.
“Herb is a great coach. Part of coaching is, it’s hard. He’ll be back. No question.”
Instead the question will lie in how ASU will bounce back.
“It is obviously a huge deal in all of our minds. I’m sure the fans feel the same,” McMillan said. “These guys come in every day and make progress. They are trying. If you would have asked me in September if this would be the case, I would have told you that you were crazy. We’ve put ourselves in this situation; we have to get ourselves out.”
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