Men’s hoops aims for NCAA bid in conference tourney

Junior guard Trent Lockett said it felt good to hear ASU chants at the end of Sunday’s 87–80 win over UA rather than chants for the Wildcats, but the ASU men’s basketball team was quick to move forward.

“Always coming off a tough loss, we would always say, ‘It’s a new day,’” Lockett said. “We have to keep working and continuing to prepare.”

While it’s on to the next game for the Sun Devils (10-20, 6-12 Pac-12) — a first-round matchup against Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday — their sights are set on getting into the NCAA tournament.

“We’re looking at the Pac-12 tournament as an opportunity to make it into the (NCAA) tournament, as crazy as that sounds,” sophomore forward Jordan Bachynski said. “It’s been done before.”

With an automatic bid on the line for the winner of the conference tournament, ASU finds inspiration from last year’s national champions to prove this outcome has happened.

Connecticut lost its last two games in the regular season to finish 21-9. The Huskies entered the 2011 Big East Tournament as the No. 9 seed because of a 9-9 conference record.

The Huskies went on to win five games in five days — four against top 25 opponents — to win the conference tournament and receive the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. UConn then went on to grab six more wins, capped by its 53–41 victory over Butler in the title game, to claim the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.

“We look at that for inspiration,” Bachynski said. “We know that if we’re peaking at the right time and if we play how we can, nothing is out of the question.”

The Sun Devils have a quick turnaround to prepare for the No. 7-seeded Cardinals (20-10, 10-8 Pac-12). Coach Herb Sendek said outside from end of season bumps and bruises, the team heads into the tournament as healthy as it has been in quite some time.

Lockett said the players had a pretty light practice Monday following their best performance of the season Sunday. The team also practiced Tuesday in Tempe before it left for Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

While the Sun Devils are coming off back-to-back wins for the first time this season, they’re trying to stay true to their form in preparation for their first-round matchup.

“Handling adversity is the same as handling success,” Lockett said. “We acknowledged what we did well, but at the same time, we have to move on and get ready for Stanford.”

The two teams met Feb. 2 in northern California, where Stanford won 68–44. Bachynski was the only player in double-figures for ASU with 20 points. Stanford sophomore guard Aaron Bright had 16 points in the contest. Stanford outrebounded ASU 37–22 and had 15 second-chance opportunities.

Aside from possible tendencies, Sendek doesn’t think there’s much to take away from that game. He said ASU was a different team at the time, when it played without Lockett, who was out with an ankle injury.

“As we know in college basketball, there can be dramatic shifts from one media timeout to the next, let alone one month to another,” Sendek said.

Tipoff is at 7:10 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona.

 

Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu

 

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