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ASU defeats Bronny James and USC with a suffocating defense

ASU men's basketball earns the win over the USC, playing hard defense and thriving in a packed Desert Financial Arena

ASU graduate student forward Alonzo Gaffney (8) and sophomore guard Kamari Lands (0) jumping for a rebound against USC at Desert Financial Arena on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tempe. ASU won 82-67.

After struggling in the second half against both Washington and UCLA, the game plan for ASU coming into Saturday's game was simple: have a good first half, and don’t fall apart in the second.

That plan was executed when ASU took down USC 82-67. Throughout all 40 minutes of play, consistent defense was key.

In the first half, there were two X-factors: junior guard Frankie Collins’ defense and junior forward Bryant Selebangue’s work down low.

Collins found his way into the cookie jar all night long in his usual fashion, finishing with six steals, adding to his 3.11 steals per game average, which currently places him at third in the country and first in the Pac-12.

Photos by Anthony Cavale and Reece Andrews.

Junior guard and forward Jamiya Neal said Collins, who leads the Pac-12 in steals per game, has an aptitude for stealing the ball and a calculated approach.

"He is smart with the way he reaches,” Neal said. “A lot of people think he's just out there playing, but he actually calculates when he’ll tell you like, ‘I’m going to wait until he bounces it the second time, and I’m going to try to swipe,’ or ‘if he does this, I’m going to poke this way.' So he really knows what he's doing, and it’s just what type of guy he is, and the IQ he has for basketball that he knows when to steal the ball."

Selebangue established ASU's dominance Saturday night and finished the first half with nine points and 11 rebounds, nine of those being offensive rebounds. 

Head coach Bobby Hurley said Selebangue was "terrific" and symbolized how the guys approached the game against USC. 

“He was relentless going after the ball,” Hurley said. “If he missed a shot, he was the first guy to be there to get it again until he completed the play. I’ve never really looked at a stat sheet, (but) I think, in all my years of doing this, (I haven't) seen a guy have nine offensive rebounds at halftime.”

The energy Selebangue brought late in the first half contributed to the Sun Devils' momentum moving into the second half. Graduate student guard Jose Perez said Selebangue's performance was “monstrous” and said "he basically won the game for us at half.”

In a somewhat rare sight, Desert Financial Arena was overflowing with fans. This Pac-12 matchup was the second-most student-attended game in program history, with 4,325 students showing up for a nationally televised Saturday afternoon game.

Neal praised the crowd in the post-game press conference.

“That was great,” Neal said. “I hope it’s like this every game for the rest of the year. I appreciate when everybody comes out and supports us; that helps us. If they’re out there cheering for us, then we’re gonna go hard for them.” 

The win also puts ASU at 8-1 in Desert Financial Arena so far this season.

USC was missing two of their star guards — Boogie Ellis and Isaiah Collier — so ASU took advantage of the Trojans' lack of ball handlers. Bronny James started at point guard for USC, but only racked up 7 points in the game and committed 3 turnovers.

USC freshman guard Bronny James (6) looking across the court at Desert Financial Arena on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tempe. ASU won 82-67.

ASU had 12 times the amount of steals the Trojans had, 12-1, and also forced the Trojans to turn the ball over 22 times, resulting in 24 ASU points. In comparison, USC forced only nine turnovers, resulting in nine Trojan points. ASU's intense defense also forced two 10-second backcourt violations. 

Perez gave it up to his coaches and said that the Trojans' film against the University of Colorado helped the team prepare for the matchup.

“Coach Hurley did a great job,” Perez said. “The whole coaching staff did a great job. They watched the Colorado game, Colorado pressured them and flipped the game around, and that's what we did; they had like 15 turnovers at half, we just flipped it around.” 

Now, ASU's coaching staff will have their hands full as they turn their attention to a road trip to Pac-12 leading Oregon on Jan. 25 and a .500 Oregon State Jan. 27.  

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 5:12 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2023 with updated statistics.

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