Barring a miraculous run to win the Pac-10 tournament in early March, the ASU men’s basketball team won’t be participating in the NCAA championship for the second consecutive season.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Sun Devils can’t have an impact on who will be in the expanded field of 68 teams come Selection Sunday.
The spoiling process starts this weekend with both Washington and Washington State coming to Tempe. With ASU’s RPI at 153, a loss to the Sun Devils would do severe damage to either team’s standing.
When ASU last met UW, the Huskies were in first place and seemed to be on their way to the Pac-10 crown.
Immediately following UW’s 88-75 victory over ASU, the Huskies dropped three consecutive contests and fell to third place in the conference.
While unbeatable at home, UW have not been the same team on the road.
Since beating UCLA and USC on the road to start conference play, the Huskies have won just one conference road game.
With UW’s aggressive style of basketball under coach Lorenzo Romar, some think the road woes have to do with the lack of the raucous crowd to throw the opposing team off its game.
“I think it has a lot to do with it,” ASU senior guard Jamelle McMillan said. “They are a very emotional team, and their crowd really gives them an advantage. They are aggressive. They reach, they pinch, they punch, they kick — whatever it takes to get the job done. They are relentless and tenacious at all times.
“When they are away from their home floor, they don’t have their home crowd behind them [and] they’ve had their ups and downs.”
That might leave the window of opportunity open just enough for ASU to sneak in and steal an upset. The Sun Devils played UW tough at Alaska Airlines Arena, with the Huskies pulling away at the end to make the final score look like more of a one-sided affair than an even contest.
“We had a fairly competitive game against Washington last time,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “They pulled ahead in the last few minutes last time to win. Against Washington State, they hit us between the eyes before we could get off our stool in our corner of the ring. We weren’t very competitive.”
A key to a different outcome on Thursday may come at a spot where the Sun Devils have struggled all season: on the glass. UW is the top offensive rebounding team in the conference and typically scores a ton of second-chance points.
“We are going have to rebound the basketball like we’ve never rebounded before,” McMillan said. “This team goes to the glass; it’s a party at the rim. We are going to have to box out and contain penetration. Isaiah Thomas (UW junior guard) is very low to the ground and quick with the basketball. They have a lot of good shooters and he finds them a lot better than in the past.”
During ASU’s first matches against the two Washington schools, WSU junior forward DeAngelo Casto and UW senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning posed serious threats on the inside.
Since then, ASU has improved their interior defense, as evidenced by holding UA sophomore forward Derrick Williams to a season-low 11 points last Sunday.
“We’ve not allowed the opposing post player to score as many points as we did earlier,” Sendek said. “The last three games, the opposing team’s frontcourts have not scored volumes against us, as was the case earlier.”
That improvement is one of the small victories the Sun Devils have celebrated over the course of the long losing streak.
Now, ASU just wants to celebrate a real victory.
“I never thought we’d be in the situation we are in,” McMillan said. “On paper we are a good team. It is tough; you want to wake up and know that you are at the top of the conference like we have been, but the reality is that we have to come in with a 1-11 record.
“You have to wake up and keep going. These last couple games, I’m playing for the fans, the ASU community; they’ve been great to me, my teammates [and] the coaching staff.”
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