LAS VEGAS — Despite recent success in the regular season, including an NCAA Tournament appearance, the ASU men's basketball team has struggled in the Pac-12 Tournament in recent history, losing its last four games. With only pride to play for this season, the program finally broke through.
The Sun Devils (15-17) topped Stanford 98-88 in overtime to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013. The win gives ASU a three-game season sweep of the Cardinal, the first time ASU has done so since beating Arizona three times in 2008-09.
One would think ASU would enter the game with some complacency considering how each of its first two meetings with Stanford went, but junior guard Shannon Evans said the Sun Devils saw things differently.
"It helped us get more pumped up," Evans said. "If you look at both of those games, they were both close games. They could have gone either way, but thankfully they both fell into our hands."
To combat Stanford's size advantage, the Sun Devils veered from their typical 3-point-centric offense and focused on dribble drives and attacking the interior of Stanford's defense.
Evans and fellow junior guards Tra Holder and Kodi Justice spent a lot of their time cutting into the teeth of the Cardinal defense in an effort to get layups and free throw attempts, doing both efficiently in the first half. ASU went to the line 17 times and shot 10 of 15 from inside the three-point arc in the first 20 minutes.
"There's great spacing, and it becomes very difficult," Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. "Our strength is our size and gritty and tough and that kind of thing, but when you're out there chasing and trying to guard dribble penetration, it becomes difficult."
Another beneficiary of that strategy was senior forward Obinna Oleka, who scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The double-double is his 16th of the season, the most for a Sun Devil since the program joined the conference in 1978.
"Obi is a match-up nightmare for people because of the mobility and his quickness and the physicality," Hurley said. "So the combination of size and quickness and ability to go away from the baskets, just all the things that he brings, gives us great confidence too."
Oleka's huge night put ASU up big in the second half, leading by as many as 12 points. But, similarly to ASU's first-round matchup with USC in 2015, the game began to slip away.
The lead slowly diminished and Stanford tied the game at 81 apiece with a jumper from junior forward Michael Humphrey with three seconds on the clock. A prayer by junior guard Tra Holder rimmed out, sending the game into overtime.
In the overtime period, the Sun Devils didn't put anything to chance. ASU made all five of its field goal attempts and four of five free throws to overwhelm Stanford, sending the Cardinal packing.
The killer sequence for ASU came from a couple of old reliables that made their biggest impact in the games most important minutes. Evans and senior guard Torian Graham sank threes within 30 seconds of each other to put the Sun Devils up by eight points midway through the extra frame to put the game out of reach.
"We're both big time players," Evans said. "I was confident, and I'm pretty sure he was confident when I shot it too."
The Sun Devils iced the game with free throws, advancing to play No. 1 seeded Oregon Thursday at noon, a team ASU played well in its lone regular season matchup.
"We have to try and play our style and got to take care of the basketball," Coach Hurley said. "They're very good with mixing their defenses up. We have to — we've got to be able to score."
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