Nine days ago the Arizona State Sun Devils earned a signature victory for their resume, beating then-No. 2 Arizona 69-66 in overtime. Conventional wisdom had Herb Sendek’s team well on its way to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, and with contributors such as guards Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall and center Jordan Bachynski Arizona State has the look of a team capable of winning once there.
But just as important as picking up quality wins at this point in the season is building on the momentum gained from such results. And it’s safe to say that on their trip to Colorado and Utah, Arizona State did not get the job done. After getting beat decisively on the glass in a 61-52 loss at Colorado on Wednesday night, things got even worse for the Sun Devils in Salt Lake City.
After scoring the first two points of the game Arizona State struggled mightily against a Utah team looking to rebound from a tough overtime loss to Arizona, trailing by as much as 27 in the first half. Utah would win 86-63, resulting in an 0-2 road swing for an Arizona State team that while well-positioned to reach the NCAA tournament can’t afford to get too comfortable. Neither the effort nor the execution were there for Sendek’s Sun Devils, and by the time they flipped the switch and cut the margin to 13 points in the second half the hole was too deep to climb out of.
Shaquielle McKissic (16 points, five rebounds) and Egor Koulechov (11 points, eight rebounds) showed up ready to play, but the same can’t be said for most of their teammates. Arizona State’s three most important players combined to shoot 7-for-29 from the field and as a team the Sun Devils shot just 31% from the field. By comparison Utah made 54% of its shots, with Delon Wright putting on a clinic in all-around guard play.
Wright made all seven of his shots from the field, finishing the game with 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson may be one of the frontrunners for Pac-12 Player of the Year, but from a versatility standpoint Wright isn’t far behind. With the weakness of their non-conference schedule Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes likely need the automatic bid to reach the NCAA tournament, but with players such as Wright and Jordan Loveridge this program has taken steps in the right direction. And given their youth, 2014-15 could be a really good year for Utah.
As for Arizona State, upcoming home games against Stanford and California become more important on the heels of Sunday’s poor performance. With a ticket to the NCAA tournament well within their reach, Arizona State has to play with greater urgency than they displayed this weekend.