It’s no secret in the Pac-12 that Oregon State senior guard Roberto Nelson can score.
Nelson leads the conference in scoring, averaging 21.8 points per game. ASU is looking forward to stopping Nelson when he and the Beavers (13-8, 5-4 Pac-12) arrive in Tempe on Thursday.
ASU redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson is quite familiar with Nelson, as the two played AAU basketball together when they were younger. He said stopping Nelson requires more than simply playing good defense against him.
“We just got to get in his head,” Carson said. “We have to stop his scoring, try to stop his assists, try to stop his focus on the court. If they hang around, he likes to trash talk, and if you trash talk back, he’s a guy that likes to use that to his advantage.”
Following their Bay Area road trip last weekend, the Sun Devils (16-6, 5-4 Pac-12) face Oregon State on Thursday and Oregon on Saturday with an opportunity to remain in the top half of the conference standings.
Both of ASU’s opponents are lethal from the perimeter. The Beavers lead the conference in 3-point field goal percentage with 40.6 percent while the Ducks (15-6, 3-6 Pac-12) are second in the Pac-12 in 3-point field goals, making 7.52 per game.
ASU, meanwhile, is second in 3-point field goal percentage (40.4 percent) and is the leader in made 3-pointers (8.41 per game). The Sun Devils also rank third in 3-point defense, allowing their opponents to shoot 30.6 percent.
ASU coach Herb Sendek has high respect for both teams’ ability to shoot, especially for Oregon State.
“(The Beavers) are shooting 47 percent as a team,” Sendek said. “It’s rare that you find any single player who can shoot (that well) from three, let alone a team.”
Oregon State heads to Tempe on Thursday fresh off an upset over UCLA Sunday.
Senior forward Devon Collier brings Nelson reinforcements and has the highest field goal percentage in the conference at 62.4 percent. Collier averages 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
“They also score in the paint. They’re long up front, and they do a good job, so it will be a great challenge for us on Thursday night,” Sendek said.
Since the beginning of conference play, Oregon has been the biggest mystery of the Pac-12. The Ducks won all 12 of their non-conference games and were ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 at one point, but they dropped off since.
While the Ducks are the Pac-12’s top scoring team at 84.7 points per game, they also give up 75.4 points a night, which is the second-highest in the conference. Oregon’s defense has cost the Ducks in every loss, as they allowed at least 70 points in those games.
With the Pac-12 now reaching the midpoint of the conference season, ASU stands 11-1 at home but has just five home games left, including the two games against the Oregon schools. It’s imperative that the Sun Devils focus on winning at Wells Fargo Arena as the Pac-12 Tournament is just over a month away.
“We got to look at them as one game at a time,” ASU senior center Jordan Bachynski said. “If we look ahead into the future, we’re going to lose focus of what’s in front of us. Right now, that’s Oregon State. We have to prepare like this is the last game of the season.”
– FOX Sports 1 will broadcast both of ASU’s home games. Due to television scheduling, Thursday’s game against Oregon State will tip off at 9 p.m..
Sendek isn’t a fan of late starts, but it’s just something his team will just have to go through.
“It’s a long day, especially for a morning person like myself,” Sendek said jokingly. “It’s really an incredible odyssey.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion