ASU men’s basketball heads on Rocky Mountain trip eyeing season sweeps over Colorado, Utah

It doesn’t get much easier from here on for ASU men’s basketball.

Fresh off from upsetting then-No. 2 UA on Feb. 14 at home, the Sun Devils (19-6, 8-4 Pac-12) head back out on the road and travel to Colorado on Wednesday and Utah on Sunday.

The Rocky Mountain road trip isn’t exactly the easiest to play in the Pac-12. The two teams each have just one home loss this season and have a combined home record of 31-2.

 
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“I think they have two of the best home courts going in college basketball,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said.

Last year, the Sun Devils lost a tightly contested game to Utah at the Huntsman Center 60-55 on Feb. 13, 2013. It took former guard Evan Gordon’s buzzer-beating layup for ASU to beat Colorado 63-62 on Feb. 16, 2013.

“We shared a statistic on Monday that under (Colorado) coach (Tad) Boyle, they’re 49-1 when they outrebound their opponents at home,” Sendek said. “The one loss being the one last year that we played.”

ASU already defeated both teams when they came to Tempe in late January. The Utes (17-8, 6-7 Pac-12) took the Sun Devils to the wire Jan. 23 before ASU escaped with a 79-75 win. The Sun Devils blew out the Buffaloes (19-7, 8-5 Pac-12) Jan. 25 72-51 in their largest margin of victory in a Pac-12 game in four years.

That weekend was the first time ASU started sophomore Eric Jacobsen at power forward. The Sun Devils outrebounded each team and had a combined rebounding margin of 69-61.

Just like the first round against those two teams, rebounding will be the key theme for ASU again.

“We’re going to have to find a way to rebound just like we had to against Arizona,” Sendek said. “It seems like we’re going up against the two best rebounding teams back-to-back this game coming up.”

Both of ASU’s opponents split last weekend’s pair of games in Los Angeles by beating USC and losing to No. 23 UCLA. Colorado has had the better luck lately by winning four of its last five games, which is the same record ASU had in that stretch.

Sophomore forward Xavier Johnson, junior guard Askia Booker and sophomore forward Josh Scott have grown comfortable filling the scoring void that junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie left behind when he was injured earlier in the Pac-12 season.

This is the first test awaiting ASU since the Sun Devils’ signature win over UA. Although ASU is a likely candidate to make the NCAA Tournament at the moment, the Sun Devils don’t want to ruin it by negating it with a losing streak. They know it won’t be easy.

“We don’t want to go there after this great win and let ourselves down,” ASU senior guard Jermaine Marshall said. “We want to be prepared. We know how tough it is to go in that environment and play. Guys are really ready for the challenge.”

Matchups to watch:

- ASU redshirt sophomore guard Jahii Carson vs. Booker. Carson had 18 points but turned the ball over six times in the first meeting. Booker recorded five steals that night but had a relatively quiet game on offense.

- Marshall vs. Utah junior guard Delon Wright. Wright usually plays different positions around the rotation, but don’t be surprised if a scoring battle erupts between the two wings.

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