Every set of Pac-12 games is a “must-win” for the ASU men’s basketball team.
However, considering the Sun Devils’ recent struggles, coach Herb Sendek didn’t deny the added importance of Thursday’s game against Colorado and Saturday’s match against Utah.
ASU (13-5, 2-3 Pac-12) has a losing record in the Pac-12 after losing to UCLA and No. 1 UA on the road and looks to win its upcoming homestand to regain control of its conference season.
“Having that we lost to Washington at home, it would serve us well to come out with a win on Thursday,” Sendek said. “It’s a big weekend for us.”
Starting with Utah (14-4, 3-3 Pac-12) on Thursday, the Sun Devils are looking forward to facing junior guard Delon Wright, the younger brother of NBA forward Dorell Wright, who earned this week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for averaging 17 points, seven rebounds, 5.5 assists and 4.5 steals against USC and UCLA last weekend.
Sendek acknowledged Wright as one of the Pac-12’s breakout stars.
“He’s a fantastic talent,” Sendek said. “He’s 6-foot-5, he’s long, a great driver and he just has a special knack of finishing at the basket. On the defensive end, he’s as good as there is maybe in the country at stealing the ball.”
The Utes are the best shooting team from the field in the Pac-12, shooting at a clip of 51 percent and also are the only team to collect more defensive rebounds than ASU in the conference with 28.4 per game. They are also second in the conference in field goal percentage defense (39.3 percent) and give up the lowest 3-point field goal percentage in the Pac-12 (28.7 percent).
“They’re coming off a great win against UCLA,” Sendek said. “Wright has really distinguished himself in our league, but he’s not alone. (Sophomore forward) Jordan Loveridge, I think, has really elevated his game. They have steady backcourt play with (sophomore guard) Brandon Taylor and they have some shooters they can go to as well. They have good depth, good balance, they really defend well and their scoring is way up.”
Thursday will be the third meeting between ASU senior center Jordan Bachynski and his brother, Dallin, who is a junior center for the Utes.
Bachynski said Dallin has gotten much better in many parts of his game this season, but he admitted this matchup doesn’t carry as much significance as their first meeting last year.
“It’s a great opportunity, but I can’t make it too different,” Bachynski said. “I got to treat it like every other game, which is tough, but I got to go about it same way as I go about any other game.”
While Utah is a rising team with an exceptional player, Colorado (15-4, 4-2 Pac-12) used to be the same until a big injury changed the course of its season.
The Buffaloes enter Tempe on Saturday in Colorado’s fourth game without freshman wing Tre’Shaun Fletcher and star junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee on Jan. 12 against Washington. Since Dinwiddie’s injury, the Buffaloes have lost two of their last three games.
Still, redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson said ASU can’t afford to ease up against Colorado, as it will look to lean on sophomore forward Josh Scott and junior guard Askia Booker. The Buffaloes also have the second-best rebounding margin in the Pac-12 behind UA.
“Sometimes, a team has (lots of) extra energy to come out and show us they can win basketball games still without their good player and that they’re a good team even without their best player,” Carson said. “They’re going to try and make up for his absence, which is tough.”
Is ASU ready to finally right its ship and prove it’s still a legitimate contender in the Pac-12? Based on the Sun Devils’ preparation all week, Bachynski believes so.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen us work so hard and play so well in practice,” he said. “We’ve had a great couple days of practice and I think guys have the mindset.”
- Senior guard Jermaine Marshall (groin) practiced on Monday and Tuesday. Sendek said Marshall’s chance of playing on Thursday is “promising” if he continues to heal at his current pace and will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
- Carson needs just 26 points to reach 1,000 career points and would be the fifth Sun Devil to reach that milestone in less than 60 games.
- ASU will honor and retire former player Eddie House’s No. 5 during halftime of Saturday’s game.
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