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ASU men's basketball hitting stride entering Pac-12 Tournament

After starting the season 7-15, the Sun Devils have won seven of their past eight games

ASU men’s basketball walks back onto the court during ASU’s 73-53 victory over Oregon State at Desert Financial Arena on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

After starting the season with a 7-15 record, ASU men's basketball is hitting its stride just in time for the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Sun Devils have won seven of their past eight games on the back of improved shooting and defense. Despite being seeded eighth in the tournament, ASU believes it can carry its hot streak for a deep run. 

ASU's struggled on both ends of the floor throughout the season before this recent stretch. Through the first 22 games, ASU shot an average of 38.9% from the field and allowed over 70 points per game. The team also allowed opponents to shoot 33.3% on 3-pointers.

But the Sun Devils have turned their performance around in the past eight games. ASU has shot 49% overall through the past eight games, an improvement of over 10 percentage points. The team has also held teams to just 57.1 points per game on 36.6% shooting from the field and 25.5% from behind the arc during this stretch.

“We were a new team coming in, so now I feel like everybody knows how to play with each other," sophomore guard Jay Heath said in a press conference last week. "I feel like we are peaking at the right time."

A Pac-12 Tournament win is likely ASU's only ticket to the NCAA Tournament. While ASU's five Quad 1 wins give the team an outside shot to be considered for an at-large bid for March Madness, the team's 14-16 record hamper its odds to make it in.

ASU will start its trek to a Pac-12 title against Stanford, the ninth seed of the tournament. ASU recently defeated Stanford 65-56 in each team's final regular season game. 

If ASU wins against Stanford, the team must go through a gauntlet that includes No. 2 UA and one of Oregon, Oregon State or Colorado before reaching the championship game. ASU could possibly see one of No. 13 UCLA or No. 21 USC if it gets to the title game.

ASU will rely on the improved performances of Jackson and Heath to make a run at the conference title. Over the past eight games, Jackson has averaged nearly four more points per game and has shot nearly 20 percentage points better from the field. Heath's efficiency has skyrocketed as well during the same stretch, shooting over 15 percentage points better from the field and over five percentage points better from three.

Head coach Bobby Hurley said after ASU's win on Friday the team will also look to continue its strong defensive play in the tournament.

“Our team has been very consistent on defense regardless of what’s happened at the other end of the floor," Hurley said. "We’ve been holding teams in the 30s for a bunch of games. So if we keep guarding that way, then certainly we should have a good chance.”

The Sun Devils will also need improved play from their leading scorer, sophomore guard DJ Horne. The guard is one of few players who have performed worse during the team's hot stretch, shooting just 34.2% from the field and 26.3% from three in his past seven games. 

But the team feels its overall play can overcome any individual struggles in the Pac-12 Tournament, which ASU will begin Wednesday at 1 p.m. MST.

“Going into tournament play, our defense is great right now, and our offense has come together from where it was at earlier in the season," graduate student forward Kimani Lawrence said on Friday. "We have a lot of guys playing well. A lot of things are going right for us right now and we’re peaking at the perfect time, so it’s exciting to see what we're going to do in the tournament.” 

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