Men’s basketball continues push to Big Dance against Cal

At the midway point of conference play, the ASU men’s basketball team finds itself a game out of first place.

The next nine games will be critical for its NCAA Tournament résumé and hopes of a Pac-12 championship. It all starts Thursday against Cal at Wells Fargo Arena.

“Our main focus is just to make history and try and win the Pac-12,” redshirt freshman point guard Jahii Carson said. “The senior guys, it’s their last go-around, and we’re just trying to make (it) memorable for them.”

The Sun Devils (17-5, 6-3 Pac-12) have yet another tough task, as it seems to be with every game this season in the Pac-12, in the Golden Bears (13-8, 5-4 Pac-12).

Cal is coming off a 58-54 win over Oregon at home and also beat Oregon State. It’s the first time in over a month Cal was able to string consecutive wins.

The Golden Bears are led by their backcourt with junior guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. Crabbe leads the conference averaging 19.4 points a game. He’s shooting 47 percent from the floor, including 35.2 percent on three-pointers. Cobbs averages 14.3 points and 4.4 assists a game.

“Crabbe and Cobbs are two prolific offensive hot players,” coach Herb Sendek said. “Crabbe just has the unique ability to shoot the ball beyond NBA range. He does a great job of coming off screens and getting square. He’s just one of those guys that can put points up by the dozens by the baker’s dozens; Cobbs is really aggressive. He’s second in our league in assist-to-turnover ratio.”

The Sun Devils have a prolific offensive weapon of their own in Carson, who posted a career-high 32 points in the 96-92 loss at Washington Saturday. He shot 13-of-19 from the floor and committed just one turnover last week against the Washington schools.

Carson is averaging 21.7 points, five assists and just 2.5 turnovers in his last seven games.

“He’s really cut down on his turnovers,” Sendek said. “You go back to the non-conference season, he’s really made improvement in that area. He’s also doing, I think, a better job with shot selection.

“He’s taking good shots, he’s making good pass decisions and above everything else right now his turnovers are down. Right now, he’s third in our league in assist-to-turnover ratio, so he’s shown great progress in that area.”

ASU was dominated on the glass against Washington, which was one of the biggest differences in the tight game.

The Golden Bears are 65th in the country with 37.5 boards a game. Sophomore forward David Kravish is tied for 12th in the conference with ASU sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling. Both are averaging seven rebounds a game. Junior forward Richard Solomon grabs 6.6 rebounds per contest.

“Washington was more physical then us,” Felix said. “I think that’s something that we saw. We didn’t watch too much film on it, but you could just tell in the beginning of the game, especially the first half, that they were much more physical than us. It’s something that we definitely got to look back at and attack.”

Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu