Winning the Pac-12 Tournament is likely to be ASU’s lone hope to dance but they will look to enter Las Vegas with some momentum and that will need to begin against USC in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon.
USC has been a new team since longtime assistant Bob Cantu took over for Kevin O’Neill. Playing at a faster pace that emphasizes spreading the ball out and getting transition baskets, the Trojans have played winning basketball that was highlighted by a court-storming win over #11 Arizona on Wednesday night. Five players scored in double figures led by Eric Wise’s 22 but none of the Trojans could miss as the team shot 61% from the field, 60% from three and 81% from the free throw line.
ASU once again could not close out a tight game against a superior opponent as UCLA outlasted the Devils, 79-74. Jahii Carson scored 22 points to pace the Sun Devils who also saw Jon Gilling, Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski score in double figures. Felix also had 18 rebounds which were the most by a Sun Devil since Jeff Pendergraph had 19 at No. 13 Oregon on Feb. 8, 2007. It is tied for the second-most by a Sun Devil in a road game in the past 26 seasons.
The first game between these two was arguably the most exciting game of the Pac-12 season and easily ASU’s most thrilling contest. The Sun Devils prevailed 98-93 in OT after USC hit three prayers at the end of regulation. Jio Fontan and J.T. Terrell had 25 and 20 respectively as the Trojans hit 15 three balls. For the victors, Evan Gordon had 28 points and Jahii Carson had 21 points to go along with eight assists in a game that saw four starters score at least 13 points. The Sun Devils made 25 free throws and shot over 50% from the field while outrebounding USC and winning the turnover battle as well.
For all intents and purposes, the only way this team dances in March is by winning the Pac-12 tournament in two weeks so the last two games against USC and Arizona are all but irrelevant in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee but wins propel momentum and also enhances the likelihood of ASU getting a chance to play at least one more home game, maybe two in the NIT. Many Sun Devil fans have gotten used to this type of late-season disappointment but there is still a sliver of hope.
Bob Cantu: Interim Coach; Kevin O’Neill fired on January 14
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 118-104; 372-261 career
G – Jio Fontan (9.7 PPG, 5.3 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (17.7 PPG, 5.1 APG)
G – JT Terrell (11.3 PPG, 36% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (10.6 PPG, 35% 3PT)
F – Byron Wesley (10.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (14.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
F – Eric Wise (12.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
C – DeWayne Dedmon (6.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (9.4 PPG, 3.7 BPG)
Why USC Can Win:
The first game told you all you need to know about USC – they are a running team under Bob Cantu and will shoot the lights out if you give them any space to get a shot off. Jio Fontan is an electrifying leader and the duo of Terrell and Byron Wesley give USC a lot options on the wings. Eric Wise is a physical forward that gave ASU trouble in the first game while the center duo of Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon cannot be understated. Aaron Fuller, a local product from Mesa, provides minutes off the bench down low.
Why ASU Can Win:
They withstood a violent aerial attack from three-point land in the first meeting against USC and pulled out the victory so the Sun Devils know they can end their slide and beat the Trojans. Jon Gilling snapped out of his shooting slump against UCLA and will look to stretch the USC defense. Also against USC, the black hole was the shooting guard position as Evan Gordon and Chris Colvin combined to score zero points. That cannot happen. The trio of Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski is what makes this team successful. Get them to make and impact and the Sun Devils find win #21.
Key Stat: From Doug Tammaro, ASU’s SID, Jahii Carson’s 13 20-point games is second-most by a freshman in Sun Devil history, trailing only James Harden who had 16 in 2007-08. Jahii now has five 20-point games on the road. James Harden (2007-08), Ike Diogu (2002-03), Jamal Faulkner (1990-91) and Steve Beck (1983-84) all had four to set the ASU freshman pace.
X-Factor: Adversity; this team was coasting a couple weeks ago and the NCAA Tournament looked like it was going to happen unless things fell apart. Fast forward to March and things have fallen apart. The season isn’t over and there is a lot to still play for but it will be a very difficult road and this team has not faced much adversity at all this season. Jahii is amazing but he can’t do it alone. Guys need to step up across the board and save the season.
Final Score: ASU 75 USC 73