Last weekend, the sky was falling. This weekend, all is well with the world again. This is the way of the 2009-2010 Pac-10 to date, with the Arizona State men’s basketball squad somewhere inside this thicket of topsy-turvy teams.
A weekend sweep of the Washington schools - the Sun Devils' first since 2003 — was ensured with a 71-46 thwarting of Washington State on Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena, and it instantly vaulted the Sun Devils from sharing the Pac-10 basement, back into the blob of the conference chase.
It’s only mid-January, but a sour last weekend against the L.A. schools was put into the rearview mirror after the Sun Devils used a good week of practice to continue their recent defensive mastery and make a few alterations on offense.
After handling the high-powered Washington offense on Friday, the Sun Devils were unfazed by a 36-hour turnaround as they quickly turned an early 7-1 deficit into a double-digit lead for most of the final 30 minutes.
“Guys want to play well,” Sendek said. “Sure, they want to score but they want to play well. They understand that for us to have a chance we have to play good defense. We’ve talked about this all along, we don’t have a very high margin. We have to be really good if we’re going to win. We have to be close to our best and I really like the way our guys responded this past week.”
It was ASU’s first victory against the Cougars in the Herb Sendek era. It was Washington State’s biggest margin of defeat since losing to Oregon in 2006 and tied for the fourth-worst shooting day (29.8 percent) in school history.
After holding Quincy Pondexter to 12 points below his season average on Friday, the Sun Devils managed to do the same to an even more prolific scorer in Klay Thompson, who was third in the nation (23.9 points per game).
He finished with nine points on only 11 shot attempts, and eight rebounds. The Sun Devils chased him deep beyond the 3-point line and always seemed to have someone there to help when he drove the lane.
ASU acknowledged Thompson missed a couple shots he often makes, but Washington State was the league’s leading 3-point shooting team until it went 2 of 13 on Sunday.
“We played them last year,” said the sophomore Thompson, who went for 28 points in a win in Tempe last season. “They played the exact same zone.”
After an early deficit and timeout, ASU used ball movement and balance to forge the lead. Four 3-pointers in a five-minute span had ASU ahead 29-14.
The Cougars pulled within six points in the final two minutes of the first half when Eric Boateng (11 points, nine rebounds) hauled in a defensive rebound, then muscled in a putback on the other end to make it 33-25 at intermission.
“I thought that was two really important big plays at end of first half,” Sendek said.
ASU pulled back into a double-digit lead immediately after halftime, at one point stretching it and their defense assured Washington State wouldn’t come close again.
It’s a defense which didn’t waver against USC even though the Sun Devils couldn’t buy a basket last weekend, and every player — freshman or senior — knows it’s the best way to earn playing time.
“On every level defense is definitely the main part of basketball, so coming onto the next level of college basketball I knew I was going to have to help contribute on defensive end of the floor,” the freshman Lockett said. “... I think this weekend we showed we can hold teams down on the defensive end.”
Ty Abbott had 17 points and a career-high 11 rebounds to lead the Sun Devils, which drew bountiful praise from the normally-subdued Sendek. Lockett had his second strong game of the weekend with 12 points and Ruslan Pateev and Jamelle McMillan also had quality minutes.
It was, as Sendek pointed out, one weekend, one pair of games with six weeks left before the conference tournament.
But it was exactly what a mentally wobbly team needed.
“I’m not going to say we’re going to go out and beat everybody,” Abbott said, “but after what happened last week and come back and get two good wins against two good teams, you can’t help but feel good and be ready to build on what we’ve put out right now.”