ASU men’s basketball heads to Tucson for showdown vs. No. 1 UA

Junior forward Jonathan Gilling dribbles the ball up the court during a home game against Bradley. (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

Junior forward Jonathan Gilling dribbles the ball up the court during a home game against Bradley. (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

In his 21 years of coaching, Sendek’s teams have beaten a top-five team seven times and the No. 1 team twice, most recently on Feb. 15, 2004, when his North Carolina State squad defeated No. 1 Duke.

Is there a formula to beating the top team? Not according to Sendek.

“I’ve learned long ago, there are too many variables,” he said.

Whether it’s through chance or what it can actually control, ASU hopes to extend Sendek’s history when the Sun Devils (13-4, 2-2 Pac-12) travel to Tucson to face rival No. 1 UA Thursday night.

Although rivalries can often distort a team’s perception of its counterpart, redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson has complete respect for the Wildcats (17-0, 4-0 Pac-12), who are off to their best start in program history.

“That whole team is an All-American squad,” Carson said.

The Wildcats have a lethal combination of returners and newcomers. Junior guard Nick Johnson and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski are returning starters who are still major contributors. UA now has forward Aaron Gordon, the freshman sensation who has been averaging 12.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and is expected to be a top-five pick in this year’s NBA Draft, should he decide to declare.

“They can score from all positions, and even the guys off the bench,” Sendek said. “They have legitimately seven guys all who can score 20 points at any night.”

Unfortunately for ASU, there are a lot of mismatches on paper.

As ASU’s offense has been noticeably struggling; the Sun Devils will have to score points over the Pac-12’s top scoring defense, which gives up only 56 points per game.

ASU, which has the worst rebounding margin per game in the Pac-12, has been focusing all week on fighting for boards against UA, which has the best rebounding margin in the conference.

“They play together, they play hard and they’re aggressive and athletic,” senior center Jordan Bachynski said on UA’s rebounding. “We need to get everybody on the boards. We can’t just have one or two guys blocking out because everyone on their team goes after offensive rebounds.”

The only weakness UA has on paper is its outside shooting. The Wildcats only make 5.35 3-pointers per game at a 37.9-percent clip.

Is this a good time for ASU to go with a zone defense?

“Find out on Thursday,” Bachynski said with a laugh.

Carson remains calm while looking to get back on track

After Tuesday’s practice, Carson addressed his slump he’s been suffering the past four games, in which he averaged 14 points and 3.5 rebounds with just a 0.53 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“I know I’m not playing the best basketball I know I can play,” he said. “In the first 14 games of the season, I would give myself anywhere from a ‘B’ to an ‘A,’ but now I’m nowhere near close to that. I’m close to around a ‘D’ or a ‘C.’”

Carson admitted he hasn’t been bringing out as much as effort as he usually brings and hasn’t been making the right passes.

Still, Carson thinks he can turn it around. He said he needs to go back to the gym and develop a routine in order for him to get back into a groove.

“My confidence is high,” Carson said. “I’m not worried about it. I know that we have a lot of games coming up, and I just need to be prepared and focus on them.”

Sendek affirms it’s all in Carson’s head, rather than his opponents shutting him down.

“They’ve paid a lot of attention to Jahii from the beginning,” Sendek said. “I don’t see the defensive schemes changing or them paying more attention to him.”

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