ASU men’s basketball looks to continue momentum at Cal, Stanford

Thursday and Saturday’s wins against Utah and Colorado showed that once the ASU men’s basketball team finds a rhythm, the Sun Devils (15-5, 4-3 Pac-12) play like a team deserving to be included into the NCAA Tournament.

With 11 games still left in the regular season, though, ASU must stay consistent throughout its conference schedule in order to stay in the tournament hunt.

It doesn’t get easier from here.

ASU heads back on the road to Northern California with a pair of games spread three days apart, rather than the normal two. The Sun Devils visit California on Wednesday, but they don’t play again until Saturday when they face Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif.

Coach Herb Sendek said the team will stay on the road in between both games.

It’s tough for any team to go through that stretch on the road, but Sendek understands it is part of the business of the conference that is heavily dictated by the Pac-12 Networks’ television rights.

“You have to play the games as they’re scheduled,” Sendek said. “There’s not much you can do about it. They can only tell you what time to tip off and what day to play.”

The Sun Devils will once again be tested defensively as both of their opponents are capable of putting up quick points.

“Both Cal and Stanford can really score,” Sendek said. “They score quickly, they score in bunches and they can score in a variety of ways.”

The Golden Bears (14-6, 5-2 Pac-12) won their first five Pac-12 games and were riding high until they lost on Jan. 22 to USC on the road, giving the Trojans their first Pac-12 win. Four nights later, California dropped its second game in a row, 76-64, at UCLA.

Despite the Golden Bears’ identity as a small team, California senior forward Richard Solomon leads the Pac-12 in rebounds with 10.6 boards per game.

The game at Berkeley will feature an exciting matchup at point guard between ASU redshirt sophomore Jahii Carson and Cal redshirt senior Justin Cobbs. Carson leads all point guards in scoring with 18.4 points per game while Cobbs’s 6.2 assists per game puts him second in the conference.

“I really like (Cobbs),” Sendek said. “I think he’s a great competitor. Throughout his career, he had demonstrated the ability to score, but one thing he’s done a really great job of is adding the distributing role to his game.

“His assists are up, he’s among the nation’s leaders in that category, and he still scores. He just seems to be a very aggressive offensive player.”

ASU narrowly defeated the Cardinal (13-6, 4-3 Pac-12) in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament last year, but Stanford retains most of its key players from last season.

Junior guard Chasson Randle headlines Stanford’s backcourt with 19.1 points per game, which is the third-highest in the Pac-12. The Cardinal’s two skilled senior forwards Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis combine for 25.5 points and 15.9 rebounds per game.

Stanford ranks second in the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage and shoot at a 40.3 percent clip from the perimeter.

“I think (Stanford) is one of the most talented teams we’ll play,” Sendek said. “They are just a tough team to match up with. They have good players who present tough matchups — out of the box matchups.”

Sendek hopes senior guard Jermaine Marshall (groin) will be much healthier after performing steadily last weekend. Sendek expects sophomore forward Eric Jacobsen, who was recently inserted into the starting lineup at power forward, to defend well against both teams’ talented big men.

“He better be ready,” Sendek said.

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