ASU men’s basketball stresses transition defense following first Pac-12 games

With the first set of Pac-12 games in the books, the ASU men’s basketball team knows it’s nowhere near perfect.

One of the flaws the Sun Devils addressed in Tuesday’s practice before their trip to Los Angeles is transition defense.

ASU’s inability to run back following missed shots was especially prevalent in its 76-65 loss to Washington on Jan. 2. The Huskies outnumbered and dominated the Sun Devils by collecting defensive rebounds and racing out to their basket.

The team spent a significant amount of time focusing on running back after misses and resetting on defense. The coaches tried sending back anywhere from three to all five players as soon as a shot went up.

Coach Herb Sendek said correcting transition defense requires more than effort and sending players back.

“Transition defense is really one of the hardest things,” Sendek said. “You have to have tremendous effort, you also have to be really connected, you have to communicate and you also have to play good offense. When you take a bad shot or turn the ball over, it automatically means your defense is in a more precarious position.”

Transition defense often compromises offensive rebounding as it makes less players available to rebound. Senior center Jordan Bachynski said he won’t let that bother him.

“You can’t really think about it like that,” Bachynski said. “You just have to run hard every position, go after those offensive rebounds. For my size, I feel like I can run pretty well and that’s not something I really worry about.”

Redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson knows the Sun Devils must correct their transition defense in time for Thursday’s game at USC, as the Trojans are a quick team that can attack on the break.

“We definitely need to sit down, focus and really give energy and effort out there to stop those guys in the paint,” Carson said. “If we don’t do it, it will be tough for us.”

 

Wanted: Bench production

Before the season, Sendek claimed that this year’s team was the deepest he’s ever coached at ASU, but it didn’t seem that way against the Washington schools.

The ASU bench accounted for only 16 of ASU’s 65 points against Washington. On Jan. 5, the reserves had just eight points against Washington State.

Outside of Carson, Bachynski, senior guard Jermaine Marshall and senior forward Shaquielle McKissic, the Sun Devils haven’t really gotten help from anyone else, even their usual suspects.

Freshman forward Egor Koulechov, who shined in the early part of the non-conference slate, has taken a step back since McKissic won back the starting spot. Junior forward Jonathan Gilling shot 1-for-4 in the past two games and freshman guard Chance Murray has played just 11 minutes. Junior forward Brandan Kearney has only played four games and is still looking to find a groove.

“Because of inconsistency, we’re really not there yet,” Sendek said. “We continue to be a work in progress. As much added depth we thought we had, we need more consistent play from everybody, but including our bench.”

 

Valuable mentor guides Sun Devils

Renowned NBA coach Doug Collins was a guest at Tuesday’s practice, sitting with assistant coaches during sessions and occasionally calling players over to offer a quick tip.

It’s not the first time Collins has visited an ASU practice. A friend of Sendek and a Phoenix resident, Collins often stopped by campus during preseason workouts.

“Whenever he’s in town, he always tries to get in my ear and whisper a couple things to me,” Carson said. “He’s been telling me that I need to leave more of a mark, especially coming down to this peak of the season where I got to be more aggressive and be more of the leader on the court every time, every single moment.”

Collins last coached in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013. Collins currently serves as a part-time NBA analyst on ESPN and occasionally calls games as a color commentator.

 

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him @Josh_Nacion