ASU men's basketball ended its six-game losing streak with a 72-68 win over Cal on Thursday to improve to 5-8 on the season and 2-5 in Pac-12 play.
In stark contrast to its previous performance against UA, ASU started strong against Cal, taking a 17-5 lead with 10:46 to go in the first half on the back of effortful defense.
However, ASU struggled to sustain that level of play for the rest of the half, stagnating offensively, allowing 12 offensive rebounds and failing to combat junior forward Andre Kelly's physicality inside as Cal took a 30-29 lead into the break.
Yet, the Sun Devils found their footing in the second half, led by senior guard Remy Martin, who finished the night with a team-leading 19 points on 6-14 shooting, and freshman guard Josh Christopher, who had 11 second-half points after going scoreless in the first.
Additionally, ASU turned to defensive specialist sophomore guard Jaelen House for significant minutes down the stretch. House notched three steals and nine deflections, according to ASU head coach Bobby Hurley.
"Not a lot of people like to play defense," House said. "I go out there and try do something nobody else likes to do. I feel like I'm one of the best defenders in our conference."
House largely replaced senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr., the Sun Devils' third-leading scorer on the season, who played a season-low 15 minutes. ASU was outscored by 14 points with Verge Jr. on the floor.
Hurley added that House's effort also inspired his teammates to perform on that end, where they held Cal to 39.3% shooting from the field and 29.2% from deep.
"I thought (House) was most likely the difference maker," Hurley said. "(House) provided a unique spark, and I think it was contagious amongst the group."
The Sun Devils also tightened up on the glass after Hurley said the team was "frustrated" with its first-half effort, limiting the Golden Bears to just three offensive boards in the second frame.
Elsewhere, sophomore forward Jalen Graham started his first game in over a month and performed well, blocking two shots and finishing with 12 points for his third straight double-digit scoring night.
For Cal, junior guard Matt Bradley and Kelly carried the offensive load with 26 and 16 points, respectively, while Kelly also grabbed 13 rebounds. No other Golden Bear scored more than five points.
With the win, ASU jumped from No. 12 to No. 9 in the Pac-12 standings and accomplished something beyond the "cabinet full of moral victories" that Hurley referred to after Monday's loss to UA.
"We've been knocking on the door in several games over the last couple weeks, and (I'm) glad we were able to break through tonight," Hurley said.
ASU next faces Stanford at home Saturday, Jan. 30, at 8 p.m. MST.
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