Needing a win for both seeding and momentum heading into the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament, the ASU men's basketball team was tasked with its eighth game against a top-25 opponent this season. Like the first seven, however, the result was not in ASU's favor.
The Sun Devils (14-17, 7-11 Pac-12) fell 73-60 to Arizona on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena to finish the regular season on a sour note.
The Wildcats jumped out to a very early lead, but neither team found a groove offensively in the first half, missing shot after shot, especially from distance, something that affected the Sun Devils moving forward in the game.
"I don't feel like, as a team, we played as well as we could on offense," senior guard Torian Graham said. "I honestly think we did enough on defense, but we didn't play well on offense. It was the offense tonight."
Heading into halftime, momentum sat squarely with the home team, as the crowd urged the Sun Devils on.
But head coach Bobby Hurley had seen this happen before with the Wildcats and warned his players not to let up in case of a quick burst offensively, but that's exactly what happened.
"They came out and hit a couple big shots," junior guard Kodi Justice said. "We got a couple good looks and didn't make it and then they just kept going. It felt like the energy we had in the first half just wasn't there in the second half."
Arizona came out of the locker room firing, surging to a 7-0 run in the first two minutes of the second half to regain any confidence lost in its poor first-half shooting performance.
"That's not how we would have liked to start the second half," Hurley said. "The energy wasn't as great on defense and we were missing shots, so it was a perfect storm of how not to begin a half."
After an ASU timeout, the Wildcats kept the pressure on the Sun Devils and never let up, keeping the advantage at eight points or more for the rest of the game.
The Sun Devil defense, though, did its job to keep the game from getting away from them until late, forcing Arizona into bad shots and keeping their scoring low.
But the Wildcats did the same to defend the ASU offense — and did it better. The Sun Devils connected on just 28.6 percent of their second half field goal attempts and were left looking for answers that would never come to fruition.
"If you had told me we would have kept them to, like, 70 points, with our offensive power, I would have said we had a good chance," Justice said. "They're a really good defensive team. They're long, active, they're all over the place, so they made us struggle a little and miss shots that we usually make."
Despite the convincing lead, Arizona's shooting woes continued in the second half, but one factor kept them a step ahead of the desperate Sun Devils: free throw shooting. Against the vaunted Curtain of Distraction, the Wildcats made 17 of their 23 free throws to put the game out of reach.
Mayo boy needs to get up out of here pic.twitter.com/f8Qd2KUupN— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 4, 2017
With the loss, ASU resigned itself to the 8-9 matchup in the Pac-12 Tournament, a game in which the program has never lost in three tries, most recently beating Stanford in 2013.
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